Two leading House Democrats have requested a federal investigation to determine if airlines used any of the $54 billion pandemic relief funds to encourage employees to quit during the pandemic.
On Friday, the lawmakers asked the Treasury Department’s inspector general to investigate whether the money intended to keep airline workers on the payroll was used for buyouts or early-retirement offers, Travel Weekly reported.
After air travel sharply declined in the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, airlines offered incentives that encouraged tens of thousands of workers to quit their jobs or take long-term leaves of absence. As a result, airlines were understaffed when travel picked back up this spring and summer, but there were higher-than-normal levels of canceled and delayed flights due to short staffing issues.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of a special panel on the government’s response to the pandemic, initiated the probe.
“American taxpayers supported the airline industry during its darkest days at the start of the coronavirus pandemic when nearly 75% of commercial flights were grounded. Americans deserve transparency into how airlines have used the federal funds they have received,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Richard Delmar, deputy inspector general of the Treasury Department, which handled taxpayer relief to businesses affected by the pandemic.
U.S. air travel fell nearly 95% during part of April 2020 when compared to the same month a year earlier, according to government figures. The number of passengers traveling has since nearly fully recovered to 2019 levels.