Trump gives truck drivers gold keys but doesn't bail out industry

  • President Trump welcomed truck drivers to the lawn of the White House on April 16.
  • He expressed a thank you from himself and all American people to truck drivers and gave them gold keys.
  • The purpose of the keys is unclear.
  • Meanwhile, the industry is headed for a "freight cliff," and key indicators are pointing toward 2009 levels of recession. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The trucking industry is on the cusp of a "freight cliff," according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency report obtained by Politico. The rate of moving goods via truck has fallen to the lowest levels seen since 2009, Cass Information Systems said. Scores of truck drivers have emailed Business Insider to say that their businesses are getting cut down to the bone.

The industry is largely made up of small-business owners and independent drivers, but even giants like FedEx Freight have been forced to lay off drivers as the coronavirus pandemic slams the US economy. On April 16, President Donald Trump welcomed four truck drivers, along with American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, to the lawn of the White House to thank drivers.  In lieu of announcing new policies to keep the £800 billion trucking industry intact, Trump gave each driver a mysterious gold key.

When he was asked what the key is for, White House spokesperson Judd Deere told Business Insider, "The key was a memento from the president to the drivers to mark the occasion and to thank them for their amazing work on behalf of all Americans." Deere did not respond to a question concerning the likelihood of monetary support for the trucking industry. "In the war against the virus, Americans truckers are the foot soldiers who are really carrying us to victory, and they are -- they've done an incredible job," Trump said before the four drivers spoke and received their keys.

"We've had no problems. It's been just great," Trump added. "And we want to thank you very much. It's really great.

We have a little special award too."

trump truck Trump on March 23, 2017.Carlos Barria/Reuters

The Trump administration has made unprecedented moves to lift several DOT regulations as the coronavirus has pushed trucking to the edge in the past month. One was the suspension of the hours-of-service law for truck drivers moving essential goods. It's the first time the federal government has ever lifted the 82-year-old law. Small trucking businesses were able to gain access to the £350 billion in Small Business Association loans made available from the stimulus bill before it ran out of money.

But many small businesses in and out of trucking may be unable to benefit from the programs in the £2 trillion stimulus bill that Trump signed into law last month. Now that the lending program has run out of cash, businesses with 500 or fewer employees are saying that they won't be able to keep their doors open. Jeremy Reed, who has been a truck driver for 22 years, is one of them.

He previously earned £6,500 a week -- before hefty insurance, truck-maintenance, and fuel expenses -- driving his own truck for air-cargo companies like FedEx and Forward Air. Now his gross earnings are down to £2,200 a week, and his accountant is scrambling to help him save his business. He was not able to receive SBA loans. 

"I have put all my money and credit in this business to get it going, and I'm not going down without a fight," Reed said. "I was hoping that the SBA was going to be a lifeline, but that's not a reality for me."  As of this writing, Reed has also received no golden key.
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Read more about how coronavirus is affecting America's 1.8 million truck drivers:

In an unprecedented move, the Trump administration suspended an 82-year-old road safety law for some truck drivers, showing how much coronavirus is pressuring retailers and hospitals to maintain cleaning and medical supplies

America's largest trucking companies won't reveal how -- or if -- they'll get their drivers home if they get coronavirus, and truckers are terrified

Leaked memo reveals trucking giant mistakenly distributed faulty sanitation wipes to its 10,000-plus drivers

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