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What Arts Workers Need to Know About Proposed Legislation to Support Those Struggling Due to COVID-19

Since theatres nationwide shut down in March and Broadway closed all 41 of its theatres March 12, show business has been mainly at a standstill. Gone is the revenue stream that led to $1.8 billion in income from 14.8 million patrons who visited Broadway. And so, a number of relief bills have been submitted to the 116th U.S. Congress to support out-of-work industry workers financially, those who are struggling to pay rent or buying groceries, as well as theatrical business owners.

The CARES Act offered Paycheck Protection Program for furloughed or laid-off employees, but that lapsed July 26. There is no current pandemic-related assistance being offered to arts workers from the government. The industry has been left to its own devices as arts non-profits offer grants and present fundraising concert after fundraising reading.

In the lead up to Election Day (November 3, 2020), select members of the U.S. Congress and Senate, and government officials on the state and municipal level are pushing a number of relief aid bills that would directly support arts workers if passed.

Here, we review pieces of legislation that had been considered, are currently being considered, and will help you know which representatives are involved, and how you can track progress.

Then, click here to explore your local representatives voting record when it comes to tangible support for the arts in America for the Arts’ Congressional October 2020 report card.

Federal Level Legislation


The Heroes Act
Sponsored by Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), and co-sponsored by Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Robert C. Scott (D-VA), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Mark Takano (D-CA), and Richard E. Neal (D-MA).

The original Heroes Act was introduced May 12. After numerous iterations, the House passed an updated version of the Heroes Act October 1. However, on October 24, however, the bill was introduced by Senator Schumer (D-NY) and rejected for consideration by Senator John Thune (R-SD), according to Democrats.Senate.gov.

The Heroes Act proposed $2.2 trillion in various programs providing coronavirus relief across industries and populations, including another round of stimulus checks, a reinstatement of the $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) supplements, and student loan relief.

The next step must be in the form of a new version of the bill that, most likely, would features terms predetermined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. No such piece of legislation has been crafted to date.

The Save Our Stages Act
Written by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX)

The Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives approved an updated proposal for its Heroes Act in late September: the addition of provisions from the Save Our Stages Act, which would have authorized $10 billion in grants.

“It is vitally important to acknowledge the disparate impact this pandemic has had on artists and artisans and recognize the need to extend unemployment benefits,” director-performer Schele Williams said September 28. “We need Broadway to bring us all back together again. It will require a tremendous effort for theatres to restart, and it will take longer than we would all hope. That is why now, we need the government to support [the act].”

The Save Our Stages addition to the Heroes Act would have authorized the Small Business Administration to make “grants to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives to address the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on certain live venues.” Organizations would have been able to apply for and receive a $12 million grant and a supplemental grant equal to 50 percent of the initial grant. Grants are preferable to loans because they do not need to be repaid and could cover costs like rent, payroll, and staff PPE.

So where does that put us? The most recent version of the Heroes Act, inclusive of the Save Our Stages Act, has been approved by the House, but not by the Senate.


Save Our Stages_The Broadway League_2020_HR
Laura Benanti, Charlotte St. Martin, Senator Chuck Schumer, Thomas Schumacher, and Schele Williams Jeremy Daniel for The Broadway League

The Small Business Lifeline Act
Written by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Chris Coons (D-DE)

A coalition of U.S. Senators propose $370 billion in relief aid be allocated from the House-approved $2.2 trillion Heroes Act to a new subsection called the Small Business Lifeline Act. Among the proposed measures of this Act is an increase of aid money in the amount of $15 billion to be distributed as grants to theatre owners, producers, and more.

The Small Business Lifeline Act proposal stipulates that in the first 14 days of the program, grants would be awarded to businesses that have faced 90 percent or greater revenue loss, followed by a 14-day period for businesses down at least 70 percent, with remaining eligible entities to follow. The funds would go toward such expenses as rent, utilities, and employee payroll and PPE. The bill also includes direct appropriations to such initiatives as the Minority Business Development Agency, loan forgiveness simplifications, the Restaurants Act, and an extended Paycheck Protection Program (including expanded eligibility) through March 31, 2021.

When it was presented by Senator Schumer, the Broadway League applauded the measure. The next step is a review by the Finance Committee, although there are no meetings scheduled on their website (and an employee confirmed there were no current plans to discuss this particular bill due to Election season and the fact that most Senators are currently working from home). Should members decide to discuss the bill, the next step is a series of hearings and executive sessions before the bill can be voted upon.

Be An Arts Hero_graphic_hr

Playwright Matthew-Lee Erlbach wrote out a bill summary on the advice of an anonymous senator’s office

DAWN stands for Defend Arts Workers Now. This bill-in-the-making, close to achieving bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, would grant $43.85 billion to a coalition of government-run arts organizations: the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and the Small Business Association. Those parties would then disperse the funds to the “operators, employees, and artists of live venues, recording venues, cultural spaces, and other arts businesses to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to BeAnArtsHero.com.

The grants would awarded based on costs incurred between March 1 and December 31, 2020 in full. A supplemental grant that covers 75 percent may be used for expenses incurred through June 30, 2021. The proposal also requests a full extension of FPUC at $600 a week until the public health crisis has subsided and a 100 percent COBRA subsidy.

“Because of the size and scope of DAWN’s ask, every office that we have met with has expressed a more fulsome understanding of how critical it is that we provide immediate relief for the creative economy,” says Be An #ArtsHero co-founder Carson Elrod. “We’re encouraged that we have multiple lawmakers that we can say that we are ‘actively and officially engaged with’ in crafting the specific language and provisions of the DAWN Act. Clearly, Tuesday’s Election will be determinative in what will be legislatively possible and we’re prepared for any outcome.”

Be an #ArtsHero is currently organizing the push for this legislation to hit the floor. Among their other campaigns have been an open letter to Congress, a civic engagement invitation to kids and teens, and digital and in-person programming.

Written by Senators Michael F. Bennet (D-CO) and Todd Young (R-IN)

One of the few bipartisan bills currently on the floor, and co-sponsored by 56 senators on both sides of the aisle, S.3814 Reviving the Economy Sustainably Towards A Recovery in Twenty-twenty Act, also known as the RESTART Act, specifically focuses on the Paycheck Protection Program. PPP was an emergency loan program instituted by the government to incentivize businesses to keep workers on their payroll.

The RESTART Act would extend the original PPP loan term to a 16-week period to allow the hardest-hit businesses, those with 500 or fewer employees and have seen revenues decline by at least 25 percent. Given that the legislation was written in May, dates within the language of the bill would likely change, but the Act is still under consideration. Three Senators signed on to sponsor the bill as recently as September: Senators Joe Manchin III (D-WV), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH). According to Congress.gov, the bill currently sits with the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Hearings are under way.

State and Local Level Legislation

Local Law 2068
Specific to NYC, this law would establish a program similar to that afforded to restaurants regarding outdoor dining. It would allow non-profit cultural groups temporary space to open areas for outdoor rehearsals and performances. The bill is co-sponsored by Committee on Cultural Affairs Deputy Leader and Chair James G. Van Bramer.

READ: Proposed NYC Legislation Could Create More Outdoor Performance Opportunities, Alleviate Roadblocks

Local Law 2034
Introduced by NYC Council Majority Leader Laurie A. Cumbo
The proposal calls for a digital hub—including a mobile app—from the Department of Information, Technology and Telecommunications in consultation with the Departments of Cultural Affairs and Parks and Recreation that allows arts institutions to coordinate such use of open spaces and share information on public programs.

Ohio CARES Act
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Lieutenant Governor Jon A. Husted developed a relief aid package of more than $419.5 million in CARES Act funding to help state residents. This package includes funding for eligible small businesses, restaurants and bars, hospitals, higher education, arts, nonprofits, and low-income Ohioans impacted financially by the pandemic. Starting November 2, residents will be able to apply for assistance through their local Community Action Agency. For more information, visit BusinessHelp.Ohio.gov.

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