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Raman Dhillon

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Move over DMV tester, make room for technology, not to replace you, but to make your job easier and keep you safe during this current health crisis. With expanded guidance from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), skills-test examiners will not have to physically climb into the cab of a truck to measure a driver’s competence for attaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Rather, they can be replaced by in-cab cameras or cell phones as long as state agencies can prove that these remote examinations do not sacrifice safety.

State DMV’s may also use web cameras and online testing to conduct the knowledge portion of the CDL test. The new guidance comes in the wake of another ruling eliminating restrictions for drivers with commercial learner’s permits (CLP).

On its website, the FMCSA said, “In light of the COVID-19 public health emergency, and the need to integrate [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance while ensuring the continued movement of emergency supplies and equipment during the public health emergency, FMCSA is encouraging [state driver’s licensing agencies, or SDLAs] to test drivers while practicing social distancing.”

Trucking industry stakeholders have praised the FMCSA for being flexible as the nation is fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The new guidance will hopefully alleviate problems that have arisen from widespread DMV closures and lack of staffing. 

During skills testing, two DMV testers “in a sufficiently large follow vehicle (seated six feet apart) or else having one employee in a follow vehicle while a recording device that is set up on the vehicle records the test, viewing the applicant’s performance after the examiner has stopped driving, and then immediately deleting the recording.”

In order to use camera technology for skills or knowledge testing, states must do the following:

  •       administer the test without compromising safety
  •       observe the skills test from a second vehicle
  •       observe the knowledge test without being physically present
  •       leverage technology
  •       score the road test
  •       verify a knowledge-test taker’s identity
  •       provide any other information the state believes will help FMCSA determine whether the test administration is comparable to a model used by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which the FMCSA uses as a CDL testing standard

FMCSA will be considering these plans until the end of June. Also in the guidance was a reminder that states shall only issue a CLP or CDL to a driver who has passed the knowledge and skills tests” unless some exemption is noted.

At the same time as it is suing the government in a Tennessee federal court, Fitzgerald Truck Parts and Sales (FTPS) learned recently that it is now on the hook for another $19 million in back taxes. Federal attorneys have issued a counterclaim against the glider truck kit manufacturer saying that Fitzgerald actually owes the IRS $83 million, up from $64 million, for failing to collect a 12% excise sales tax dating back eight years.

Federal attorneys said, “Statutory additions have accrued, and will continue to accrue, as a matter of law, on the unpaid portion of the assessment.” The new amount includes taxes and penalties that the IRS says were not collected from sales of glider tractor-trailer purchases since 2012. 

The counterclaim was in response to Fitzgerald’s assertion that it was exempt from collecting the tax, saying the IRS was singling out Fitzgerald and that the tax had not been assessed on all dealers who sold gliders during the same time period. The government denied this allegation and had asked a judge to dismiss parts of Fitzgerald’s lawsuit. 

But, in a memo, a federal district court judge in Tennessee rejected the government’s request. At issue is Fitzgerald’s claim that the IRS changed its previous position—held for twenty years—that the truck maker did not need to pay the 12% federal excise tax because the company had a 

“safe harbor” exception due to the fact that a refurbished truck sells for less than 75% of the cost of a new truck. 

“FTPS is aware of one or more third parties who, like FTPS, sold gliders but, unlike FTPS, have not been assessed excise taxes on their sales,” the lawsuit said. “In some cases, the gliders these third parties sell are repaired and assembled by the same company, an FTPS affiliate, that repairs and assembles the gliders FTPS sells.”

The examination of Fitzgerald by the IRS began in 2014 for tax quarters from 2012-2014 and resulted in a letter telling them they owed the excise taxes, penalties, and interest. Fitzgerald has admitted that it did not collect those taxes but argues they were under the assumption they had an exemption.

Truck drivers will not be part of Utah’s recent travel advisory which requires adults who enter the state to complete an online form asking whether they have been exposed to the novel coronavirus. 

In efforts to slow the spread of the infectious disease COVID-19, Governor Gary Herbert released an executive order that establishes a protocol for those crossing the border. All adults must fill out a form within three hours of entry about their current health situation and the potential risks of infection. 

Originally, truck drivers were included in the executive order but later were exempted along with other essential workers such as airline personnel and first responders. It took the Nevada Trucking Association (NTA), in league with the American Trucking Associations, Utah Trucking Association, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, to point out the governor’s edict was unconstitutional.

In a press release, the NTA said, “We appreciate the governor’s office for recognizing the operational burden the requirement puts on the trucking industry and others that are responding to this public health emergency.” 

NTA leaders correctly pointed out at the time of the Utah governor’s original announcement that such “an impediment to interstate commerce” had been one of the key reasons why the United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation in 1789. The founding fathers were worried that states could block commerce for any variety of reasons which could be judged as discriminatory. 

Although the stock market enjoyed its best week since 1974 with the S&P jumping 12.1%, mostly on news that the federal government will pump more than $2.2 trillion into the economy in the wake of the coronavirus health emergency, some equity analysts predict the country is in for economic hard times. 

Global asset manager Unigestion has informed its investors to expect a nearly 3% contraction in the U.S. economy for 2020, and that is its best-case scenario. They warn that a 5.9% percent decline is not far-fetched. Unigestion says that as companies begin releasing report earnings, the calamity caused by the crisis will become clearer and investors will begin to sell, with a potential 50% cratering in market value as the full depth of the recession is clarified.

“Prices have fallen dramatically from where they were…but if we go back to our base-case scenario that we’re looking at something like a 2008 type shock, we think that earnings expectations still have quite a distance to fall,” said Unigestion’s investment manager Salman Baig. Baig also suggested that while the recent stimulus from the feds is welcome, he believes there will be a greater need for a global focus before investors will come back to the market. 

At any rate, investors will continue to be wary until governments begin to loosen social restrictions and open the economy to business as usual. President Donald Trump has signaled that he would like to get things going again sooner than later but has continued to say he would listen to health professionals.  

An SBA loan that helps businesses keep their workforce employed during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Loan Information

The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.

SBA will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.

You can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans once they are approved and enrolled in the program. You should consult with your local lender as to whether it is participating in the program.

Lenders may begin processing loan applications as soon as April 3, 2020. The Paycheck Protection Program will be available through June 30, 2020.

For affiliation rules applicable for the Paycheck Protection Program, click here.

The Interim Final Rule for Applicable Affiliation Rules for the Paycheck Protection Program information is being posted in advance of publication in the Federal Register.  The official version will appear in the Federal Register.

Who Can Apply

This program is for any small business with less than 500 employees (including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons), private non-profit organizations or 501(c)(19) veterans organizations affected by coronavirus/COVID-19.

Businesses in certain industries may have more than 500 employees if they meet the SBA’s size standards for those industries.

Small businesses in the hospitality and food industry with more than one location could also be eligible if their individual locations employ less than 500 workers.

Loan Details and Forgiveness

The loan will be fully forgiven if the funds are used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities (due to likely high subscription, at least 75% of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll). Loan payments will also be deferred for six months. No collateral or personal guarantees are required. Neither the government nor lenders will charge small businesses any fees.

Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels.  Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease.

This loan has a maturity of 2 years and an interest rate of 1%.

If you wish to begin preparing your application, you can download a copy of the PPP borrower application form to see the information that will be requested from you when you apply with a lender.

Other Assistance

In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, small business owners in all U.S. states, Washington D.C., and territories are currently eligible to apply for disaster assistance.

Enhanced Debt Relief is also available in SBA’s other business loan programs to help small businesses overcome the challenges created by this health crisis.

For information on additional Lending options, please click here.

SBA provides local assistance via 68 district offices and a nationwide network of resource partners. To find resources near you, please click here.

Lender Forms and Guidance

The Interim Final Rule announcing the Paycheck Protection Program information is being posted in advance of publication in the Federal Register.  The official version will appear in the Federal Register. Click here to download.

Click here to download the Paycheck Protection Program Lender Application Form. Lenders who need assistance accessing SBA’s E-Tran system to process loan guarantee requests may call our Lender Customer Service Line at 1-833-572-0502.

Click here to view the Lender Agreement and enroll as a participating SBA Lender to make Paycheck Protection Program financing available to your customers.

Source of information:

Along with relaxed hours-of-service rules and postponement of license renewals, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is now issuing “reasonable flexibility” guidance related to drug and alcohol testing for drivers because of the current health emergency.

While carriers are still responsible for making sure that drivers can pass a drug test before going out on the road, the feds have made adjustments, recognizing the extraordinary circumstances the trucking industry is now facing.

In a posting on its website dated March 23, the FMCSA said, “We, as a Nation, are facing an unprecedented public health emergency that is straining medical resources and altering aspects of American life, including the workplace. The Nation’s transportation industries, which are not immune to the impacts and disruptions resulting from the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, are playing a vital role in mitigating the effects of COVID-19.”

The new FMCSA guidance, effective until June 30, includes the following areas. First, for pre-employment testing a prospective employee must show a negative pre-employment test result unless they qualify for one of the following exceptions: 

  • A driver who has participated in a controlled substance testing program that complies with the regulation within the last 30 days. 
  • A driver who was tested within the past six months from the date of their application with a potential employer.
  • A driver who was in a random controlled testing program for the last year from the date of their application.
  • A driver who has recorded with past employers that indicate no violations of the controlled substance rules for any DOT agency within the last six months.

Second, regarding random testing, under normal circumstances, regulations require random tests be performed throughout the year and that individual drivers be tested quarterly. During the crisis, however, if carriers are unable to do random selections and tests, they can make up the required 50% testing rate for drugs and the 10% requirement for alcohol in the second half of the year, depending on the status of current conditions. In addition, carriers must document exactly why they are postponing testing. 

Third, as for post-accident testing, the temporary guidance says that if a carrier is unable to perform an alcohol test within eight hours following an accident or a controlled substance test with 32 hours after an accident, they must provide documentation in writing indicating the specific reasons why testing could not be conducted. 

In other areas of testing, FMCSA is requiring carriers to not allow drivers who have yet to pass a return-to-duty test to continue driving. Finally, for reasonable suspicion tests and follow-up testing, carriers must document specific reasons why they could not conduct tests.  

 

Volvo Financial Services (VFS) is offering customers in the U.S. an enhanced finance program on the purchase or lease of the model year 2020 or 2019 Volvo VNL, VNR, VNX or VHD model during this time of financial uncertainty as a result of COVID-19.

“We understand how important it is – especially during this unprecedented situation with the coronavirus – for trucking companies to maintain strong cash flow,” said Stephen Yonce, vice president of VFS. “To do our part, Volvo Financial Services continues to seek out ways to help our customers through these difficult times.”

The “Hammer Down 2.0” Program extends the first payment for 60 days for qualified buyers of Volvo VNL, VNR, and VNX models and for 90 days for qualified buyers of VHD models in dealer stock inventory. In addition, the program offers low to no down payments for qualified applicants. For the model year 2019 trucks, customers can receive up to $5,000 payment credit on initial monthly installment or lease payments, and up to $3,000 payment credit on initial monthly installment or lease payments for the model year 2020 models.

Daycab models will also receive an engine plan and purchased Engine Aftertreatment (EATS) coverage for 3 years or 300,000 miles. VNL, VNR, and VNX sleeper models will receive an engine plan and purchased EATS coverage for 4 years or 500,000 miles.

“Trucking companies and professional drivers are more important than ever,” said Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America. “Volvo Trucks North America is committed to doing its part to alleviate some of the stress created by COVID-19, and we will continue to offer programs to help our customers and keep trucks and the economy moving.”

Statement on State and Local Shelter in Place and
Other Restrictions on Movement Relating to COVID-19

Note:  This guidance document does not have the force and effect of law and is not meant to bind the public in any way.  This guidance is intended only to provide clarity regarding existing requirements under the law.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is aware that States, localities and territories have implemented or may consider implementing quarantine or travel restrictions that impact movement within their jurisdiction and on persons entering from certain locations within the United States and U.S. territories with sustained community transmission of the COVID-19 disease, as caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2.

States, localities, and territories may wish to consider the following when implementing any quarantine, movement, and/or screening requirements that impact freight and passenger transportation by commercial motor vehicles.  These suggestions draw on lessons learned from State, local, and territorial actions to date, as well as Federal guidance recommending unrestricted movement and access for critical infrastructure workers.

The Department of Homeland Security, through the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency guidelines,[1] has identified the following as essential workers:

  • Employees supporting or enabling transportation functions, including truck drivers, bus drivers, dispatchers, maintenance and repair technicians, warehouse workers, truck stop and rest area workers, Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) employees, towing/recovery services, roadside assistance workers, intermodal transportation personnel, and workers who maintain and inspect infrastructure (including those that require cross-jurisdictional travel).
  • Workers including truck drivers, railroad employees and contractors, maintenance crew, and cleaners supporting the transportation of chemicals, hazardous, medical, and waste materials to support critical infrastructure, capabilities, functions, and services, including specialized carriers, crane and rigging industry workers.
  • Bus drivers and workers who provide or support intercity, commuter and charter bus service in support of other essential services or functions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided guidance[2] to truck drivers delivering needed supplies to New York City, an area of widespread community COVID-19 outbreak, which provides:

  • Truck drivers delivering needed supplies should stay in their vehicles as much as possible as supplies are loaded and unloaded, avoid being within 6 feet of others as much as possible when they exit their vehicles and move to electronic receipts if possible.
  • To the extent that truck drivers have to stay in restricted areas to get required rest, they should wash their hands frequently and practice social distancing to the extent possible.

The CDC’s March 28, 2020, Travel Advisory for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, which urged residents of those States to refrain from domestic travel for 14 days, expressly excluded “employees of critical infrastructure industries, including but not limited to trucking.”  The CDC Advisory noted that these employees “have a special responsibility to maintain normal work schedules.”[3]

FMCSA realizes that long haul drivers may be on the road for days or weeks at a time.

The CDC has issued guidance that, when drivers return to their domicile location, they should follow the recommendations of the State or local officials in the areas in which they live.

The CDC recommends that all people take precautions to stay safe and keep others safe, including washing their hands regularly, staying home when sick, covering their coughs and sneezes, and maintaining distance from others.

[1] https://www.cisa.gov/publication/guidance-essential-critical-infrastructure-workforce

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/s0326-nyc-truck-driver-guidance.html

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/s038-travel-advisory.html

As with the deadline for attaining a California Real ID, which has been postponed due to the current health crisis, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will allow truck drivers to continue driving even if their licenses have expired. Drivers whose licenses will have expired as of March 1 will now have until June 30 to renew commercial driver licenses (CDL), learner permits (CLP) and medical certifications.

In a response to the COVID-19 crisis, the FMCSA said it understands drivers operating commercial motor vehicles (CMV) are important to the nation and that they may be having trouble getting into offices to renew licenses and certifications. In a waiver statement, the agency said, “Ensuring that drivers are available to operate CMVs during the national emergency declaration is critical to the continued operation of the transportation and energy supply networks and the safety and economic stability of our nation.” 

The waiver applies to all CDLs, CLPs as well as “non-CDL commercial drivers whose license was issued for less than the maximum period…and was valid on Feb. 29, 2020, and expired on or after March 1, 2020.”

The waiver has several provisions, but the most important among them states that FMCSA will not take enforcement actions against any of the following:

  •     CLP or CDL drivers operating a CMV with an expired license if the CLP or CDL was valid on Feb. 29 and expired on or after March 1.
  •     Carriers that allow a CLP or CDL to operate a CMV to operate without an expired license as long as the license was valid on Feb. 29 and expired on or after March 1. 
  •     A CMV driver or carrier that allows a driver to operate a CMV while the driver does not have current medical certification, but only if the driver has evidence of a medical certificate which was valid on Feb. 29 and expired on or after March 1.

In other words, drivers have until June 30 to renew licenses and certifications before facing any penalty. However, waivers do not apply for licenses or certificates that expired before March 1. Likewise, drivers who have had their licenses suspended because of traffic offenses do not qualify for this waiver.

American Trucking Associations Vice President Dan Horvath said, “While America’s truck drivers are out delivering the essential medical supplies, food and other goods we need to combat this virus, FMCSA has taken an important step to let drivers and carriers know how to address things like expired commercial drivers’ licenses or medical cards.”

As the nation deals with the coronavirus outbreak, J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., one of the largest transportation and logistics companies in the U.S., is giving its drivers and support personnel a one-time $500 bonus. The bonus will go out on March 27, according to a press release from the Arkansas-based firm.

J.B. Hunt President and CEO John Roberts said, “All of our employees have gone above and beyond the call to action during this crisis. And nearly all of our field-level, front-line employees and certainly all of our drivers are required in person and have upheld the high standards of our company. They have kept pace with the evolving supply chain needs of our customers in the face of great uncertainty.” 

Drivers, field employees, and managers in terminals and other supply centers are eligible for the bonus. Not only is J.B. Hunt offering its employees added compensation in the midst of this difficult situation, but they have also been taking numerous precautions to ensure the health and safety of their workers. While some employees are working from home the company is providing hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks to those who are in the field.  

The company has also established a paid leave program for those who cannot work because of the virus or who are in quarantine. “The safety and health of all J.B. Hunt employees and their families are of the utmost importance to us. We are very grateful for their dedication to ensure critical supplies reach their destination in these challenging times,” Roberts said.