January 5, 2021
Congress Wraps a Busy Year with Big Fiscal Package
As is often the case, the close of 2020, and of the 116th Congress, was a busy one, as members of Congress and the Trump administration were negotiating and voting on legislation until January 2, the very last day of the legislative term. Fortunately, as you are no doubt aware, after considerable challenges, Congress was able to agree to and President Trump ultimately signed a broad comprehensive package that funds all federal agencies for fiscal year 2021 and provides a new round of much needed economic relief, as the impact of the coronavirus continues to harm communities throughout the country. In this month’s column, I will provide you with a summary of that legislation and preview some of the major issues we anticipate this year, as President-elect Biden prepares to take office.
First, with regard to funding for federal agencies and programs, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 increases funding for the National Endowment for the Arts from its current amount, $162.25 million, to $167.5 million. While this figure is lower than the House-approved number of $170 million (the same figure endorsed by NASAA and other arts organizations), this year’s increase marks the fifth consecutive year that Congress has increased funding for the Arts Endowment, including all four years of the Trump presidency, which had called for the agency’s elimination in each of its four budget requests.
Also within the end-of-year aid package are several provisions that could provide critical support to artists. The popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is being re-upped with at least $280 million in new loan funding available (including some that is forgivable). The legislation also includes the creation of a new $15 billion grant program, known as the Save Our Stages (SOS) Act, for shuttered venue operators. The program will be available for nonprofit and for-profit organizations, including independent movie theatres and museums. Understandably, there is a lot of interest in this program. The legislation requires the Small Business Administration, which will oversee the grants, to publish rules within 10 days of enactment to govern how the program will work. One important criterion to be aware of: an organization is permitted to receive SOS funding if it secured a PPP loan last year; however, organizations receiving PPP loans (or securing second draws on earlier loans) after December 27, 2020, will not be eligible for SOS grants.
Beyond these critical programs, the legislation extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Compensation that expired last year until mid-March and provides a benefit of $300 per week. The bill also allows for an extra $100 a week for workers who have both W-2 and self-employment income.
With a new legislative session now under way and President-elect Biden set to take office later this month, we at NASAA are excited and hopeful that we can continue to build on the strong bipartisan support we’ve seen for the arts in recent years. It is our hope that Congress will again consider and pass legislation providing additional relief for communities impacted by the pandemic, and we are already having conversations with members of Congress about legislative priorities for the year. I look forward to working with all of you again this year, and appreciate the time and focus you gave during the most difficult of circumstances.
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