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Dingell, Upton, 86 Lawmakers Urge Increased Assistance for Nation’s Museums

Washington, April 16, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Fred Upton (R-MI) led a bipartisan group of 86 lawmakers in urging House leadership to provide assistance to our nation’s museums in any future coronavirus relief package. 

“As we write this letter, museums of all sizes are experiencing closures, attendance free-fall, canceled events, and actual layoffs. This is escalating, day-by-day, as closures and cancellations continue. Most of these are cash-based businesses; their economic lifeblood is people visiting,” the lawmakers wrote. “Declines in international and domestic tourism, declines in local attendance, and increases in physical distancing are having a devastating impact on the nonprofit museum community, which operates on thin margins of financial sustainability, without large designated operational reserve funds or access to tax-relief benefits, and is often largely dependent on earned revenue from visitors passing through their doors. As many as 30% of museums, mostly in small and rural communities, will not re-open without significant additional and immediate emergency financial assistance beyond the CARES Act.”

Economic impact data compiled by the American Alliance of Museums and Oxford Economics shows that the museum economy contributes $50 billion a year to the U.S. economy and generates $12 billion in tax revenue to local, state, and federal governments. During these times, museums nationwide are losing at least $33 million a day due to closures as a result of COVID-19 and will be in desperate need of significant federal support to maintain jobs, secure our cultural heritage, help to rebuild our nation’s tourism industry – and simply to survive the months to come.

In addition to Dingell and Upton, the letter was signed by Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D-MA), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Paul D. Tonko (D-NY),  Haley Stevens (D-MI), Adam Smith (D-WA), Susan A. Davis (D-CA), Katherine M. Clark (D-MA), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), André Carson (D-IN), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Jim Himes (D-CT), Bill Keating (D-MA), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Ed Case (D-HI), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), Mike Doyle (D-PA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), Bill Foster (D-IL), Dina Titus (D-NV), Filemon Vela (D-TX), Scott H. Peters (D-VA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), David Trone (D-MD), John P. Sarbanes (D-MD), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Daniel W. Lipinski (D-IL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Anthony G. Brown (D-MD), Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), Anthony Brindisi (D-NY), Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Grace Meng (D-NY), Brenda L. Lawrence (D-MI), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Brendan F. Boyle (D-PA), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Antonio Delgado (D-NY), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr (D-GA), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Joe Courtney (D-VT), David Price (D-NC), Lori Trahan (D-MA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Joe Cunningham (D-SC), Andy Levin (D-MI), John Yarmuth (D-KY), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Will Hurd (R-TX), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), John B. Larson (D-CT), Adam B. Schiff (D-CA), Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Gwen S. Moore (D-WI), Judy Chu (D-CA), Jesús G. "Chuy" García (D-IL), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).

The full letter can be read here or below: 

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy:

The nation’s museum community is facing an existential threat from the closures required to address the COVID-19 pandemic that requires major responses from the United States Congress beyond those contained in legislation enacted prior to April 1. Most museums anticipate remaining closed through the end of 2020. Normal revenue from admissions fees, retail sales, and event rentals will effectively cease, and charitable contributions will decline dramatically.

As you develop phase 4 COVID-19 response and recovery legislation, we urge you to:

1. Extend the Paycheck Protection Program and loan forgiveness through December 2020, and make nonprofits, including museums, with greater than 500 employees eligible for loan forgiveness. Priority number one is to keep as many employees in their jobs as possible for as long as possible. Nonprofit museums, including those with greater than 500 employees, often employ large numbers of part-time and temporary employees, including students, as part of delivering their public outreach and education missions.

2.  Include supplemental funding, specifically for museums, to be administered by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to cover needs not filled by the Paycheck Protection Program. This would include assisting museums in developing and sharing distance learning content, and pandemic recovery planning and implementation. If the Paycheck Protection Program is inadequate to meet the needs of the museum community or is not renewed and forgiveness not extended for nonprofits, including museums, through December 2020, then the supplemental funding would need to include $6 billion in funding specifically for museums’ general operating support and payroll for the IMLS – Office of Museum Services.

The $6 billion figure is a conservative estimate based on budget numbers from several museum associations and numbers from the Oxford Economics/AAM’s “Museums as Economic Engines” study. The American Alliance of Museums calculates that museums are losing at least $33 million a day due to closures as a result of COVID-19, will be in desperate need of significant federal support, and that the U.S. Congress needs to include at least $6 billion for nonprofit museums in economic relief legislation to provide emergency assistance through December. The study shows the museum field directly employs 372,100 people and generates $15.9 billion in income each year. It costs $1.3 billion to keep 370,000 people employed per month so the estimated cost through December 2020 is approximately $6 billion minus the two-months of expected assistance from SBA-related loan programs.

3.  Expand the universal charitable deduction provision in the CARES Act by removing the $300 cap.

4.  Extend the CARES Act removal of the 60% limit on Adjusted Gross Income that may be deducted through charitable gifts of cash. 

Museums are a robust and diverse business sector, including African American museums, aquariums, arboreta, art museums, botanic gardens, children’s museums, cultural museums, historic sites, historical societies, history museums, maritime museums, military museums, natural history museums, planetariums, presidential libraries, public gardens, railway museums, science and technology centers, and zoos.

Nationwide, our museums are losing at least $33 million a day due to closures as a result of COVID-19 and will be in desperate need of significant federal support to maintain jobs, secure our cultural heritage, help to rebuild our nation’s tourism industry – and simply to survive the months to come.

Museums are economic engines. Economic impact data compiled by the American Alliance of Museums and Oxford Economics shows that this museum economy contributes $50 billion a year to the U.S. economy and generates $12 billion in tax revenue to local, state, and federal governments. Museums also are vital local sources of employment, supporting 726,000 direct and indirect jobs annually. Museums play an essential role in the nation's educational infrastructure, spending more than $2 billion a year on education. The destabilizing effects of the current crisis place the future of these contributions to the U.S. economy and education system at great risk. If these businesses fail during this crisis, then there will be no jobs to which many thousands of displaced workers can return.

As we write this letter, museums of all sizes are experiencing closures, attendance free-fall, canceled events, and actual layoffs. This is escalating, day-by-day, as closures and cancellations continue. Most of these are cash-based businesses; their economic lifeblood is people visiting. Declines in international and domestic tourism, declines in local attendance, and increases in physical distancing are having a devastating impact on the nonprofit museum community, which operates on thin margins of financial sustainability, without large designated operational reserve funds or access to tax-relief benefits, and is often largely dependent on earned revenue from visitors passing through their doors. As many as 30% of museums, mostly in small and rural communities, will not re-open without significant additional and immediate emergency financial assistance beyond the CARES Act.

Furloughs and layoffs among museum personnel are increasing. As employers, museums care deeply about the welfare, health, and financial stability of hard-working staff, and are concerned that increasing unemployment among museum personnel may exacerbate broader community issues of lack of access to health care, food insecurity, and even homelessness that will make the COVID-19 response much more challenging.

Museums have impressive support from the public. According to a recent public opinion poll, 96% of Americans would think positively of their elected officials taking legislative action to support museums, regardless of political persuasion or community size. 97% of Americans believe that museums are educational assets, and 89% believe that museums contribute important economic benefits to their community. Museums are also the most trusted source of information in America, rated higher than local papers, nonprofit researchers, the U.S. government, or academic researchers. Museums can leverage this high level of public trust to provide education on COVID-19 and fight misinformation about its spread. By empowering the public with the information, they need to make informed decisions and lower their risk of contracting or spreading disease, museums can help sustain healthy communities, maintain calm, and reduce the chances for an increase in discrimination or xenophobia often created by global diseases.

 

Even now, while museums are experiencing closures and significant losses in revenue, and planning for staff reductions, they are still serving an increase in demand in communities across the United States for educational resources by providing lesson plans, online learning opportunities, and “drop-off” learning kits to teachers and parents in areas where schools have closed; freely sharing virtual exhibitions and content accessible to those who are otherwise isolated; creating new digital services; maintaining their outdoor spaces to provide quiet places to relieve stress during this time of high anxiety; and supporting the families of health care workers and first responders with access to child care and meals.

Museums are community anchors, addressing challenges in times of crisis like the one we are currently experiencing. Unfortunately, we expect hardships to be faced by increasing numbers of these bedrock institutions in communities across the country in the months ahead, underscoring the need for their continued economic relief.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

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