Policy Watch: Advocating for A More Creative Massachusetts

MASSCreative advances policies that support a well-resourced and equitable creative sector that is essential to the vibrancy of Massachusetts. Over the last four months, MASSCreative staff and partners worked on important policy items for the arts and cultural community.

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Since January 2020, a lot has happened regarding policies and legislation to support the creative sector. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, MASSCreative continued to work with partners to support bills for a State-wide Percent for Public Art, a Dedicated Revenue Study for Arts, Culture and Tourism; and common sense changes to ease procurement of artistic services. 

However, upon the COVID-19 outbreak in the Commonwealth and the Nation, MASSCreative pivoted our policy and government affairs efforts to address the immediate and critical needs of the creative and cultural sector. 

This morning, MASSCreative hosted its first weekly COVID-19 Virtual Policy & Action Update to help the creative community make sense of what Congress and the MA Legislature are doing to strengthen the social and economic safety net during this public health emergency. This 15-minute webinar will be available every Friday at 9:45am for anyone interested in practical policy updates and simple tools to make your voice heard. More resources and FAQ will be available soon for the April 17 COVID-19 Virtual Policy & Action Update. RSVP for the April 24 COVID-19 Virtual Policy & Action Update here.

In Congress

When Congress took up writing and passing the third Federal bill to address COVID-19, MASSCreaitve joined national partners to advocate for provisions that would provide relief for organizations and individuals working in the creative sector. Survey results from the Americans for the Arts Impact Survey helped support our advocacy work. Thanks to advocates from across the nation and Massachusetts, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included funds to the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment of the Humanities, and the Institute of Library and Museum Sciences. In addition, independent contractors were included in unemployment assistance--a first in the history of the unemployment safety net. Looking ahead, we expect a fourth COVID-19 related Federal Relief bill. The time and content of the bill are still in development. MASSCreative will share updates as more information is released. 


At the State House

The COVID-19 outbreak was met with action by Governor Baker and the Legislature to first and foremost address the immediate public health crisis in the Commonwealth. We applaud the allocation of public funds to provide front line medical personnel with equipment and protective gear. As state government leaders awaited a federal response, MASSCreative began working with partners in the creative community and across sectors to develop COVID-19 response policy recommendations. We are currently working on the following issues:

Stimulus and Recovery Funds

Like tourism and hospitality, the creative sector was immediately impacted by the spread of COVID-19. As of April 7, 2020, COVID-19 has already had a devastating economic impact on America’s nonprofit arts sector—financial losses to date are estimated to be $4.5 billion. In Massachusetts, organizations cancelled or postponed revenue-generating programs, and artists and cultural workers contracts were cancelled. In a recent survey by the Mass Cultural Council, self-reported losses by arts and cultural organizations are estimated to be $264 million. 

SOLUTIONS

  • Any economic recovery or stimulus bills must include recovery funds for arts, cultural, and humanities organizations. Relief and economic recovery programs developed by the state should include artists, independent creative workers, and small businesses. 
  • Economic recovery or stimulus funds for the arts, culture, and humanities must be equitably distributed across the spectrum of organizational budget size and communities served.
  • MASSCreative joins the Mass Nonprofit Network to recommend that any employment-focused relief or stimulus legislation should apply equally to nonprofit and for-profit employers by making tax credits and deductions applicable not just to income taxes, but to the taxes nonprofits pay, such as unrelated business income taxes and payroll taxes. 
  • Government contracts and private foundation grants must be converted to general operating grants to mitigate earned revenue losses. 

Nonprofit Unemployment 

Many nonprofit arts and cultural organizations opt to self-insure. They reimburse the state fund when necessary instances arise, and budgets can manage cases on that scale. But no self-insured organization could foresee an instance where most or all employees would need to be covered at once. Mass Cultural Council’s survey found that 62% of organizations plan to lay off, furlough or reduce hours for staff impacting 15,381 employees. Organizations also reported an unemployment liability of $6.5 million. While the CARES Act provides an allotment for states to forgive one half of the reimbursements owed by self-insuring nonprofits, it is essential to recognize the existing enormous financial hardship faced by these organizations. 

SOLUTIONS

  • MASSCreative joined a coalition, led by the Mass Nonprofit Network to recommend State Leadership consider two additional remedies:
    • Allow for full forgiveness of the COVID-19-related claim reimbursements owed by self-insured organizations. Advocacy at the federal level for additional support for this purpose continues, but in the meantime, states can hold harmless these organizations in order to preserve the charitable sector’s services at this critical time. In addition, ensure that the Commonwealth is prepared to receive and apply the federal funds to cover half of the costs of COVID-19 related UI claims for self-insured nonprofits.
    • 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. An automatic deferment will provide some immediate relief to charitable organizations and will relieve DUA from managing individual employer requests for deferments in their quarterly payments.

Artists, Creative Entrepreneurs and Independent Contractors

Artists, creative entrepreneurs and independent contractors are especially vulnerable in the sudden economic crisis. Traditional methods for income, including performances, teaching or storefront sales have disappeared overnight. While the CARES Act includes unemployment assistance to independent contractors, these funds are still not accessible as of Friday, April 17. Many independent creative workers are quickly pivoting to alternative means of income. Mass Cultural Council’s March survey found that individual artists, self-employed humanists, and teaching artists reported a total of $2.8 million in lost income due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

SOLUTIONS

  • Statewide technical assistance programs, trainings, and efforts must be accessible and applicable to cultural workers, artists, and creative entrepreneurs. 
  • Philanthropic relief funds designated for the creative community should prioritize independent artists and contractors without access to unemployment and equitably distributed across communities.
  • Mayors, Town Managers, or Select boards should work with Local Cultural Councils (LCCs) to provide payment for LCC funded performances cancelled due to the statewide emergency declaration, with the understanding that those performances will be rescheduled once it becomes possible to do so. 
  • With many artists and creative makers quickly shifting business models, the associated LLC filing fee is cost prohibitive. As of January 2020, Massachusetts had the highest filing fee ($500) of any state. MASSCreative urges a suspension or reduction of the LLC filing fee.

Charitable Deductions

Many nonprofit arts and cultural organizations hold annual fundraising events in late winter and early spring. These fundraising events account for a significant amount of contributed revenue through individual and corporate donations. The loss of contributed revenue on top of lost earned revenue is likely to shut down many organizations that serve communities across the Commonwealth. In March, the Mass Cultural Council found that 43% of surveyed organizations across the Commonwealth cancelled upcoming fundraising activities. The CARES Act includes an "above-the-line" or universal charitable giving incentive for contributions made in 2020 of up to $300. This is only for the 2020 tax year. Incentivizing donations to arts and cultural nonprofits is essential not only during the crisis but into our expected recovery. 

SOLUTION

  • Make permanent the universal charitable deduction included in the CARES Act.
  • Enact the Restoration of State Charitable Deduction which would incentivize individual donations now when needed most by arts and cultural nonprofits.

Arts Education

On March 13, 2020 Governor Baker issued a statewide stay at home order requiring the closure of all nonessential businesses and schools. School closures for K-12 and higher education students have required schools and educators to pivot to remote learning. The structural weakness in our school systems have come into stark contrast because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Arts education has long been a space where young people develop emotional, social and cognitive skills that better support them. In this unprecedented moment, access to arts education is critical for all students, regardless of zip code.

MASSCreative is a member of Arts For All, a coalition of non-profit organizations and public agencies. Arts for All recently identified the following challenges and solutions to addressing educational inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic:

FUND EDUCATION

State revenues are forecasted to significantly decline as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. There is an increased need to ensure that state funding for Chapter 70 and the recently passed Student Opportunity Act (SOA) remains intact and that funds are allocated at the local level to include arts education.

Solutions

  • Preserve state funding for education in the annual budget process.  
  • Advocate to local school leaders to allocate funds for arts education efforts.

CONNECT ORGANIZATIONS WITH SCHOOLS

Arts and cultural organizations closed facilities and cancelled in-person programming because of public health concerns. Programs including in- and out-of-school arts education were included in these cancellations. 

Solutions

  • Schools are urged to fulfill existing agreements with teaching artists and cultural organizations using virtual meeting technology.
  • Encourage schools to access learning opportunities offered by Massachusetts cultural organizations to support distance learning.
  • Disseminate a statewide repository and directory of arts education resources by cultural and arts organizations that teachers and parents can access.

ACCESS & TRAINING FOR TEACHING THE ARTS REMOTELY

Schools have converted to online and other distance learning for students. The inequities in access to equipment and internet connectivity will increase the achievement gap for students. Most teachers are inexperienced in distant learning procedures, use of technology, technological choices, other resources, and distance-learning protocols. Finally, some schools are not prioritizing arts education classes in virtual learning for students or developing appropriate innovative solutions for maintaining quality arts education. 

Solutions

  • Use free-and-reduced lunch student identifications and rural regions without high-speed internet to prioritize distribution of equipment and access to high speed internet. This will help ensure that all students have equitable access to appropriate technology and wifi.
  • Develop a series of professional development resources sponsored by DESE to develop online-teaching techniques for arts education. 
  • Advocate to school districts to include arts education classes in students’ virtual learning.
  • Require districts to formulate a comprehensive emergency-distance learning plan that includes arts education.

SUPPORT THE NEXT GENERATION OF ARTS TEACHERS

Higher Education teacher education programs and practicums have been severely disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak and quarantine. 

Solutions

  • DESE and higher education partners should develop alternative ways of meeting practicum hours wherever possible.
  • Create a temporary licensure program for graduating college education majors who are unable to complete practicum hours, and have them complete their practicum on the job in the fall under university supervision, leading to full initial licensure.
  • DESE should develop different kind(s) of additional licensure for distance learning including for arts education, which requires vastly different skill sets from regular in-classroom teaching.

All COVID-19 related policy recommendations and advocacy opportunities can be found at mass-creative.org. As we continue to advocate together, our policy recommendations will evolve to meet this unprecedented crisis. Should you have an idea about how federal, state or local governments can help protect and support the creative sector, please feel free to reach out to Executive Director, Emily Ruddock: [email protected] Your feedback makes our advocacy stronger.

 

 

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