State Policy, the Arts and COVID-19

April 21, 2020

Dear NASAA members and advocacy colleagues:

I know you all are working overtime to address the immediate needs of artists and arts organizations in your state while also keeping an eye on the long-term effects of COVID-19 on our field. NASAA, likewise, is straddling the present moment and the future outlook. We’re advocating for the arts at the federal level and doing our part to support your current and anticipated case making in each of the 56 states and jurisdictions.

It’s in that vein that I am writing today with an update on state policy trends affecting the arts.

The State Legislative Environment

We’re seeing—and you’re experiencing firsthand!—widespread delays, postponements and adjournments of legislative sessions and committee hearings due to public health restrictions. A few states are set up for alternative procedures (such as remote voting), but the legislative backlog is still growing. When legislatures ultimately reconvene, we expect a compressed and chaotic policy docket. To navigate these unusual circumstances, NASAA suggests the following:

  • Stay on the lookout for more policy to be enacted through executive orders and other expedited means. Take stock of relationships you have with the executive branch and make sure key contacts are briefed on your policy issues.
  • Convey the importance of the arts to your elected officials now; don’t wait for sessions to formally reconvene. See NASAA’s latest Practical Advocate on Virtual Advocacy for helpful tips.
  • Have your talking points polished, your facts sharpened and your mailing lists primed for rapid mobilization once sessions reconvene.

State Policy Trends

Despite procedural hurdles, state legislatures still are trying to make progress on bills that address COVID-19. Be watching for these kinds of opportunities in your state:

  • Small Business Help: Some legislatures are advancing bills designed to assist small businesses. For instance, New Jersey‘s package provides both grants and loans to small businesses, including nonprofits, affected by COVID-19. You can urge that nonprofits be included as these bills are being formulated. Also consider collaborating with your state department of commerce to understand the requirements and do your part to ensure that creative-sector applicants have the training they need to compete successfully. This may require swift action, since state level loan programs may run out of money quickly.
  • Special Appropriations: Some states are considering special appropriations to allocate funds beyond immediate health care needs. Can the arts be included in relief or stimulus bills in your state? Here is an example of how ArtsWA and its allies positioned such a request.
  • Rent Relief: Many states have pending legislation that would prevent evictions from taking place, fees from being assessed for late rent, or utilities from being cut. Notably, California has pending legislation that would prevent nonprofits as well as commercial businesses from being evicted during the pandemic. Many other states, like Arizona, are preventing commercial and nonprofit evictions through executive order.
  • Unemployment: While some states are expanding their own unemployment benefits, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program provides federal dollars for part-time, contract and gig workers. All benefits will be implemented at the state level, following U.S. Department of Labor guidance. State workforce agencies are bringing those systems online now. Monitor information from your state workforce agency and be ready to notify your stakeholders right away when PUA enrollment opens.

The Year Ahead

The economic fallout from COVID-19 is expected to have a dramatic impact on state revenues for fiscal year 2021. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states are on the brink of budget shortfalls totaling more than $500 billion. History has shown that contractions in state revenues can have adverse and lasting effects on discretionary spending, including on the arts. To prevent precipitous declines in arts appropriations, advocates will need to position the arts as a recovery asset:

NASAA Can Help

NASAA Research Associate Declan Wicks is monitoring state legislation affecting the arts and state arts agencies. Contact Declan if you have questions about policy trends or want samples of bills that could be beneficial in your state. NASAA also offers many tools to support state level advocacy. Notable resources include:

Thank you for all you are doing to sustain state government’s commitment to the arts at this time. Your efforts are truly making a difference for communities across America. Stay well, and don’t hesitate to contact me when NASAA can be of assistance.

Best regards,

Signature of Kelly Barsdate Chief Program & Planning Officer NASAA




Kelly J. Barsdate
Chief Program and Planning Officer