FAQs: April 17 COVID-19 Virtual Policy & Action Update

During our 4/17 Policy and Action Update Webinar, participants asked questions regarding policy and advocacy:

Federal Updates

Q: For cultural organizations who have requested and been approved for financial support through the CARES Act, how long are the funds supposed to last? Does it only apply to this fiscal year or beyond?

A: The CARES Act included $350 billion for Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and $10 billion for the Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). The PPP loan amount is calculated based on the average total monthly payroll in the prior year. The term of the loan is 2 years with an interest rate of 1%. The loans are “forgivable” if they are used for payroll costs (75% of the loan), interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. 

On Thursday April 16, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced the funds in both programs were exhausted. Congress is working on proposals to add more funds to the programs but as of Friday April 17th, nothing has been passed. According to The Hill, the Senate will vote Tuesday April 21 to provide $350 billion to a coronavirus relief small-business lending program. Organizations and independent contractors should continue to submit applications and follow up with banks on previously submitted applications for both the PPP and EIDL.

Q: What is the difference between NEA funding that arts organizations can apply for and the funding that will be distributed from the NEA to state arts agencies?

A: $75 Million was allocated to the National Endowment for the Arts in the CARES Act. $45 million (60%) in direct grants to arts organizations and $30 million (40%) to State Arts Agencies (Mass Cultural Council) and Regional Arts Organizations (New England Foundation for the Arts).

The NEA released CARES Act Grant Guidelines for the their direct grants last week. The deadline to apply for part 1 is April 22, 2020. Please note: Organizations must have received an Arts Endowment award within the past four years in order to apply to this grant program (beginning with awards that were made in FY 2017 as indicated by an award letter that is dated on or after October 1, 2016, and an award number that begins with "17 - ").

The Mass Cultural Council and the New England Foundation for the Arts are developing grant programs in response to guidelines from the NEA. We will share more information on this as it develops.

Q: Besides the CARES Act, which focuses primarily on payroll relief, is there an expectation that there will be any further opportunities through federal funding that can apply to operation/loss of income relief--not directly related to payroll?

A: Congress is working on a fourth stimulus bill to address the economic impact of COVID-19. The provisions included as well as the timing of this bill are not yet clear. 

State Updates

Q: Does Massachusetts have a substantial rainy day fund? Can we dip into that? 

A: On April 14, the Chairs of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means and Administration & Finance Secretary Heffernan held an economic roundtable featuring Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, economists, and non-partisan think tanks. Treasurer Goldberg reported Massachusetts’ rainy day fund is at $3.5 billion. While this is substantial, economists cautioned that this fund should be spent conservatively in case the economic downturn is long. 

Q: Is the Mass Cultural Council budget at risk?

A: Each year we join arts and cultural advocates to support increases to the largest public investment in the creative sector, the Mass Cultural Council’s annual budget. Thanks to our collective work, over the last eight years the Mass Cultural Council’s budget doubled from $9 million to $18 million. Given the downturn in state revenues since the COVID-19 outbreak, there is reason to believe that the overall state budget for fiscal year 2021 will be smaller than recent years. MASSCreative will join our statewide partners and creative sector supporters to protect the Mass Cultural Council’s budget from significant cuts. However, we should be prepared that we will all have to work diligently to educate our elected officials on the vital role arts and culture play in Massachusetts. Reach out to your legislators to share your story of impact today

Q: Do we know if there is an arts/cultural work group of MA legislators to respond to COVID-19?

A: The Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development continues to meet to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on our sector and develop policies in response. Chairs Kennedy and McMurtry participated in a listening session co-hosted by the Mass Cultural Council and MASSCreative. MASSCreative is in communication with the Joint Committee and shared our policy recommendations in March to help support their work. 

Q: Any chance of forgiveness for nonprofit unemployment benefit costs for those organizations that haven't paid into the state unemployment fund?

A: We continue to work with our partners Mass Nonprofit Network to advocate for full forgiveness of the COVID-19-related claim reimbursements owed by self-insured organizations and provide an automatic deferment of at least 120 days in payments owed to the state trust, as proposed in section 5 of S.2618. DUA’s emergency regulation at 430 CMR 22.00 allows employers to request a 60-day deferment in contributions or reimbursements owed. We are hopeful that as more Federal aid is allocated to States, these provisions will be adopted. 

Q: This has shone a light on insufficiency of support from all levels of government for the arts in Massachusetts. What is the best route forward for developing and approving legislation for directing public funds (ie taxes via millage, construction, cannabis, etc) for statewide support of the nonprofit cultural sector?

A: In October, 2019, MASSCreative testified in support of a bill to establish a Commission to Study Funding for the Promotion of, and Workforce Development in Tourism, Arts and Culture (bills H.2943, sponsored by Rep. Michlewitz and S.2021 sponsored by Senator Collins). This is a first step towards significantly increasing public resources to the creative sector. While the COVID-19 outbreak has changed some of our legislative priorities, we continue to support the passage of this bill during this legislative session. 

Q: Is the Mass Cultural Council’s Individual Relief Program only for artists residing in Boston? 

A: Both the COVID-19 Relief Fund for Individuals and the Safe Harbors Initiative for Organizations are statewide support programs. These programs are open to any artist or nonprofit organization in Massachusetts. The deadline to apply to the COVID-19 Relief Fund for Individuals is Wednesday April 22 at 11:59pm.


Q: What can we do now in terms of advocacy for the fourth stimulus bill and/or enhanced PPP funds?

A: Check out MASSCreative’s COVID-19 Federal Advocacy section for ways to encourage Federal support for the creative and cultural sector.

Q: Is engaging on a local level also valuable? What would we be looking to achieve there?

A: Engaging on all levels of government is essential to our success. We encourage and support efforts to educate and advocate municipal leaders on the value and needs of the creative sector right now. In the coming weeks we expect to have examples to share and initiatives to join. Feel free to contact Tracie Konopinski ([email protected]), Program Director to share any upcoming opportunities we can support and amplify.

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