Since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began, the American Rental Association’s (ARA) government affairs team and ARA’s volunteer leaders have been working tirelessly to help those impacted. While the pandemic has caused ARA to scale back the ARA Legislative Caucus in Washington, D.C., this spring, there are numerous things happening to help ARA members and push the issues that are important to them.
Rental Management spoke with John McClelland, Ph.D., ARA vice president for government affairs and chief economist, to get an inside look at the current efforts.
Rental Management: ARA is scaling back its annual ARA Legislative Caucus this year and had to cancel it in both 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. What effect has this had on ARA’s ability to connect with federal lawmakers and push for issues that are important to the equipment and event rental industry?
John McClelland: Caucus has been a very difficult situation for us. We’re scaling back in 2022 because the pandemic has limited our access to Capitol Hill. It is just not possible to have 100 ARA members come into town and walk through the halls of Congress as they usually do. So, we have had to use other methods for reaching members of Congress. What we have done is work with member offices on Capitol Hill to get either the member of Congress or key staff on calls to have discussions about the issues that we’re facing. We’ve done many calls over the last two years to connect ARA leadership with members of Congress to talk about these issues.
Rental Management: Do you see ARA hosting caucus again in the future if the pandemic improves?
McClelland: Absolutely. Caucus is one of ARA’s premier events. It has a long history going back to the 1970s. It is very important to make sure that members of Congress know and understand our industry. I’m hoping that a year from now we’re going to be going full bore towards having a full-fledged caucus again.
Rental Management: It’s been nearly a year since ARA decided to shift its government affairs focus to concentrate on segment advocacy which meant creating two advocacy workgroups — the ARA Equipment Rental Advocacy Workgroup and ARA Event Rental Advocacy Workgroup. What impact has this change had?
McClelland: Before, we had a single government affairs committee and we tried to balance that with equipment and event folks. But when the pandemic hit, we really had the industry sort of bifurcate. Equipment and general tool did incredibly well. On the event side, it was exactly the opposite. Some of our event members were down more than 90 percent for a period of at least 18 months and now some are approaching two years because of the spread of the omicron variant.
The EBC is bringing a lot of different groups together that have a common cause and getting them to speak with a single voice on a single issue.
We decided it would be a good idea to focus on the issues for each segment and bring those segments together on common issues. One thing that has been really positive is we have been able to include some of the larger members. We had United Rentals and Sunstate Equipment Co. join the equipment group. On the event side, Arena Americas and PRO EM National Event Services have joined. Being able to get the perspective of members, all the way from a single location equipment rental store up to national brands has been a very positive development for us.
Rental Management: Last spring, ARA spearheaded the creation of the Economic Bridge Coalition (EBC). The coalition now includes 17 trade associations which represent businesses that continue to struggle with the impact of COVID-19. What is the coalition’s goal and what work is being done right now?
McClelland: ARA has worked in coalitions in the past and Washington works a lot in coalitions. It is very difficult for any single group to go out and say, “Hey, we have a specific thing and we need specific help.” We realized early in the pandemic that it was going to be difficult for ARA to be the sole voice on certain issues because there were so many other industries affected.
ARA and other associations representing travel advisors, amusement parks, the Live Events Coalition and more got together and decided to form a bigger coalition. The goal has been to get more assistance to help these business owners recover because not only have they lost the business that they would have had during the last couple of years, but their balance sheets have been destroyed. A lot of them have had to sell assets or mortgage homes. It has had a terrible effect on them. We decided we needed to have a bigger voice and so that’s how the EBC came together.
The coalition represents $1.2 trillion in economic activity and that has been very helpful for us to be able to get our message across for two reasons. One, it is not just ARA lobbying on an issue, but it is 17 trade associations being able to lobby on the issue. Second, if we want to do grassroots action it’s not just our roughly 1,300 event rental members sending a message to Capitol Hill. The EBC is bringing a lot of different groups together that have a common cause and getting them to speak with a single voice on a single issue.
The current situation is that at the end of 2021, Congress passed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded and that continuing resolution expires on Feb. 18. That is when they are going to have to put together all the appropriations for 2022 and get those passed. We think that is the place where we have an opportunity to help businesses and get additional funds through the Small Business Administration (SBA). I encourage all ARA members to visit economicbridgecoalition.org to learn more about the coalition.
Rental Management: What can ARA members can do to help push for additional support for those still struggling from the pandemic?
McClelland: Everybody should be watching for information from ARA. If the association asks members to send a letter to Congress, it is absolutely imperative that you do that. We have always encouraged members to reach out to their members of Congress. They want to talk to their constituents. We also encourage members to reach out to state and local officials. If you have any questions on how to do that, please call myself or Alysia Ryan, J.D., ARA’s director of state government affairs, at 800-334-2177.