The National School Transportation Association supports states that end enhanced unemployment benefits and a proposed bill to redirect the benefits to signing bonuses for new hires to incentivize employment. - File photo courtesy Student Transportation Inc. 

The National School Transportation Association supports states that end enhanced unemployment benefits and a proposed bill to redirect the benefits to signing bonuses for new hires to incentivize employment.

File photo courtesy Student Transportation Inc. 

As school bus contractors nationwide continue to rebound from staffing hurdles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) urges Congress and states to continue to help address the school bus driver shortage.

Private school bus operators provide nearly 40% of the nation’s school bus service in 200,000 yellow school buses with close to 380,000 employees, according to a news release from the NSTA. Each day, nearly 26 million children rely on the school bus as their primary way to get to school in the safest way possible.

The industry, however, suffered severe economic losses and furloughed thousands of employees over the course of the pandemic, so the driver shortage has only been amplified. The process of getting an applicant to the point where they can drive a school bus remains a lengthy one. This process has been lengthened in many cases due to closures of State Driver’s License Agencies (SDLAs).

"Depending upon where a school bus contractor operates, the process for getting a candidate trained, qualified, and licensed can take anywhere from six to eight weeks, under the best of circumstances,” explained John Benish Jr., chief operations officer of Cook Illinois Corp. and president of NSTA. “School bus operators also usually have company-based training requirements in addition to what is mandated by law.”  

NSTA strongly supports U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) and his proposed bill, S. 1557, or the “National Signing Bonus Act,” according to the NSTA’s news release. The bill, according to a news release from Sasse’s office, would redirect the expanded pandemic unemployment benefits to individuals who get a job by July 4, 2021, as a federal signing bonus equal to 101% of two months, to be paid over the course of multiple payments.

In addition, last week several states indicated that they will cease providing enhanced unemployment compensation, instead opting to incentivize citizens returning to the employment pool.

These actions are seen by the NSTA as a positive development in the quest to have existing commercial driver’s license (CDL) drivers return to work, as well as attracting new employees pursuing career opportunities, according to the association’s news release.

“NSTA applauds Sen. Sasse, and the states of Alabama, Montana, and South Carolina, for taking proactive steps to provide tangible incentives for candidates to enter or re-enter the workforce," said Carina Noble, senior vice president of communications and external affairs for National Express and president-elect of the NSTA.

The actions are seen as necessary by the association in particular due to the Sept. 6, 2021 unemployment insurance extension provided in the American Rescue Plan. Curt Macysyn, NSTA's executive director, cited that as particularly problematic, since nearly every school will have begun its new school year by that date, and student transportation has to be 100% operational by the opening of the schools around the country, the news release reports.

"Due to deadlines provided for in the American Rescue Plan, many school bus contractors around the country have found it difficult to garner new employees and with continued disincentives to return to work, it will become increasingly more difficult to get potential new bus drivers trained, certified, and licensed in time for a return to school," Macysyn explained in the news release.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the NSTA will host a webinar titled “Proactively Addressing the Driver Shortage.” The NSTA FLASH webinar will be moderated by NSTA Executive Director Curt Macysyn, and feature Julius Ceaser a recuiter for Cook-Illinois Corp., and David Strong, president of the Student Transportation Association of Massachusetts. Panelists will discuss potential policy solutions and company tactics that can be implemented to help ease the driver shortage.

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