GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. — The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is reaching out to both big box retailers and Congress to help resolve what OOIDA is calling challenges for owner-operators in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
Those challenges include obstacles truckers face on the road and concerns expressed by members about their experience with the new Small Business Administration loan programs that OOIDA said are supposed to help owner-operators remain viable through the health crisis.
In a letter sent Tuesday, OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh told the retailers — among them Walmart, Target, CVS and Walgreens — that OOIDA was receiving several hundred calls daily from drivers who are unable to buy essential supplies to protect themselves from COVID-19, including paper towels, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes, all of which he noted are nearly impossible to find currently.
“The irony is that truckers are hauling these supplies, but they are unable to actually buy them,” Pugh said, adding he would like the retailers to make these items available to truck drivers for purchase or through donations. He also asked the retailers to give drivers permission to use rest room facilities when they are delivering freight to warehouses and retail business locations.
“Truckers are on the front lines of the supply chain,” Pugh said. “If they get sick, the supply chain will be disrupted more than it already is, which is precisely why it is important to support them as much as reasonably possible.”
In a Tuesday letter to several members of Congress who are in positions of leadership, OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer said SBA programs that are supposed to help owner-operators get through the coronavirus emergency were exhibiting a combination of negative factors — including a lack of clear guidance from the agencies and lenders — that has left many feeling shut out or shortchanged.
“We are urging Congress to make sure that these issues are addressed as they consider future changes to the program,” Spencer said. “We also have concerns that lenders may overlook applications for these smaller loans because there isn’t much financial incentive to process them.”
Spencer said the public’s perception of the state of trucking during the crisis is misguided.
“While news reports may give the impression that business for truckers is booming, the underlying data and feedback from our members paint a much different picture,” he said. “Outside of an initial spike in demand for delivering groceries and other essentials, most truckers transporting in other segments of the economy have seen a significant drop in business. And as Americans realize there is plenty of food in our supply chain and panic buying subsides, we are seeing rates drop across the industry.”
Spencer also challenged the SBA’s guidance in awarding Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
“Sole-proprietors applying for a PPP loan are reporting that they must use their net income to calculate their maximum loan eligibility,” he said. “Since any good business knows to deduct as much as possible to limit net income, these sole-proprietors are unable to use the PPP loans.”
Truck driver Camilo Diaz of Miami wears a mask after parking his rig at the Flying J Truck Stop April 11. The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association has reached out to major retailers and Congress to help resolve challenges facing independent contractors during the COVID-19 crisis. (Associated Press)