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Lawmakers urge federal funds to promote tourist hotspots like Vegas

Updated August 10, 2020 - 8:08 pm

WASHINGTON — As the House and Senate move to jump-start negotiations on a coronavirus relief bill, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is asking congressional leaders to allow federal funds for grants to promote tourism in states and cities like Nevada and Las Vegas.

Locations across the country have taken a disproportionate economic hit from the pandemic that constricted the tourism and hospitality businesses, which saw a $505 billion loss this year — resulting in $81 billion in tax revenue losses to states and cities.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., chairwoman of the House Transportation subcommittee on economic development, has written a letter urging the House to make available $5 billion in federal grants in the next relief bill to help promote tourism and hospitality.

The grant program would be overseen by the Economic Development Administration.

“The unemployment rate in Las Vegas is nearly twice the national average because of our dependence on travel and tourism,” Titus said.

Titus filed a bill that would provide grants to “encourage travel when and where it is safe to do so and help communities like Southern Nevada recover from this recession.”

A letter signed by the entire Nevada congressional delegation and lawmakers in both parties from other states hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic who support the bill was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

“I’m hopeful that having strong bipartisan support for this legislation — including from the entire House delegation — will help me make the case to congressional leadership that travel and tourism jobs must be a priority in the next relief package,” Titus said.

The Titus bill, the Healthy and Safe Travel Promotion Act, would give flexibility to state, local and tribal governments to spend funds allocated under the CARES Act in March, plus new allotments in upcoming relief bills.

In addition, the grants would promote state, local and tribal participation in funding the program to boost tourism. Travel and tourism lagged other sectors of the economy in previous downturns.

The scope of the COVID-19 pandemic has been even more crippling to states known for tourism destinations like Nevada, with Las Vegas, Laughlin, Reno and Lake Tahoe.

“We fear that without direct federal action, this time could be far worse,” Titus said.

Congress remains at an impasse over a new coronavirus relief bill, with sticking points on unemployment benefits, a moratorium on evictions and legal protections for businesses, schools and other institutions that have opened during the crisis.

President Donald Trump sought to bypass Congress this weekend when he signed executive orders that included one to halt collection of payroll taxes that provide funding for Social Security and Medicare trust funds.

The president’s controversial move is expected to be challenged in federal court, and even Republican lawmakers balked at meddling with Social Security and Medicare during an election year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called on Democrats to come back to the bargaining table but drop their demand for assistance for state, local and tribal governments.

The National Governors Association, a bipartisan group chaired by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, the vice chairman, called on the Trump administration and Democrats to restart stalled talks.

States are seeking $500 billion to stave off layoffs and provide essential services, a resolution that would help overcome the stumbling block in relief negotiations.

“This resolution should avoid new administrative and fiscal burdens on states,” Cuomo and Hutchinson said in a statement.

Flexibility to spend relief funds on a grants program to promote tourism and travel is also sought by Titus in her bill to House leaders.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the grants would not be used to promote gaming.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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