Below is a letter to the Illinois Congressional Delegation on behalf of Arts Alliance and it’s statewide membership regarding COVID-19 relief for the arts sector.
Dear Honorable Illinois Members of Congress,
The COVID crisis is devastating Illinois’ creative economy. Without continued and expanded federal relief, the sector’s immediate and long-term viability is in jeopardy. Our nonprofit arts organizations, creative businesses, and individual artists appreciate your support of the COVID relief enacted to date, but the surge of temporary and permanent closures in our sector continues, with no end in sight.
We urge you and your congressional colleagues to pass additional, comprehensive COVID relief this month, including the policies listed below.
In a recent survey by the Alliance, 513 Illinois arts organizations, representing less than 20 percent of the industry across the state, reported $179 million in lost revenue in just the past three months. In addition, the area of arts, culture, and recreation has one of the highest Illinois unemployment rates at 43 percent, ahead of 33 percent unemployment in the food and accommodation industry (U.S. Bureau of Statistics).
The creative sector has a long runway to recovery, perhaps the longest of all industries. For the vast majority of our businesses, current gathering limits make reopening impossible, audience demand will be suppressed until a vaccine exists, and the PPP loans have ended. Nationally, Americans for the Arts estimates that over 2/3 of all artists are unemployed and that the industry faces more than $5 billion in losses.
During this crisis, we join the national call for the following specific relief efforts, to be focused on our state’s creative sector:
- Provide much needed federal funding to Illinois and its local governments. Appropriate $875 billion to states to offset revenue shortfalls, decreasing the potential of state cuts to vital program areas such as the arts and arts education and allowing for direct support for arts recovery at the state and local level.
- Extend, recapitalize, and expand the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) by enabling a second round of PPP funding, expanding allowable costs, removing restrictions and burdens for self-employed applicants, and swiftly issuing clear loan forgiveness guidance. The PPP must prioritize nonprofits and small businesses in communities of color and in other communities / sectors disproportionately impacted by COVID.
- Extend Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), as well as treat mixed-income workers fairly. Extend FPUC, the additional $600 per week, from July 31, 2020 to January 31, 2021. Improve implementation guidelines so that artists and other gig economy workers with mixed income (such as W-2 and 1099) receive full support rather than unfairly being limited to partial benefits. Update Disaster Unemployment Assistance to ensure support for artists and other gig economy workers in the long term.
- Provide loan forgiveness to nonprofits through the Main Street Lending Program (MSLP) and the Economic Stabilization Fund to support payroll costs and fixed overhead costs and ensure eligibility for nonprofit employers with more than 500 employees, which have been left out of current relief provisions.
- Increase charitable giving by removing the $300 cap on the above-the-line or universal charitable deduction in the CARES Act and allowing all taxpayers to claim the deduction on 2020 tax returns. Maintain the CARES Act removal of the Adjusted Gross Income limitation on deductibility of charitable gifts for 2021 and beyond.
- Fully fund the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program (EIDL) and eliminate the $1,000-per-employee cap imposed by the Small Business Administration, so that businesses with one or very few employees can access funds.
- Protect self-insured (reimbursing) nonprofits from devastating unemployment insurance (UI) costs by increasing the federal UI reimbursement to them from the CARES Act’s 50 percent to 100 percent of costs.
- Approve substantial additional funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities, and Institute of Museum and Library Services so they can provide COVID-19 relief that addresses the unique needs of cultural organizations. Make the NEA’s relief grants available to all NEA-eligible organizations, expand public/private matching waivers, and allow grant funds to be reallocated to general operating support.
- Substantially increase federal funding for PreK-12 education, including substantially increased funding dedicated to arts education and to distance learning, so that elementary and secondary schools can ensure equitable access to quality arts education for all students amidst the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
- Expand access to health coverage and care by including a one-time special enrollment period in relief legislation and removing access and affordability barriers to health coverage for artists and arts workers that have atypical employment structures.
- Enact policies to ensure rapid processing of artist visas by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and consulates to shield U.S.-based arts petitioners from the delays and costs of reprogramming international events.
- Emphasize equity and racial justice throughout COVID relief and recovery efforts. In implementing the PPP, EIDL, and MSLP programs, as well as COVID relief grants through the NEA and other federal agencies, prioritize communities of color and other communities / sectors disproportionately impacted by COVID. Allow public access to comprehensive racial and geographic data on COVID relief funding and its impact.
The crisis faced by Illinois’ creative sector is growing more dire by the day. The prospects for our sector’s viability depend upon immediate action by Congress. We urge you to pass additional, comprehensive COVID relief this month, including the policies listed above.
On behalf of Arts Alliance Illinois and its statewide membership,
Arts Alliance Illinois