At Last! COVID-19 Relief Approved in Year-End Funding Bill

December 22, 2020

New and extended forms of federal COVID-19 relief are on the way in a year-end package of FY21 federal funding and coronavirus assistance of unprecedented scope, to be signed into law this week. Following months of advocacy by orchestras and the League of American Orchestras, in partnership with an extraordinary and essential network of advocates across the broader arts and nonprofit sectors nationwide, much-needed relief will be available in the new year, including support specifically designated for the live performing arts and its workforce.

Access to relief will be fast!  Eligibility requirements will be created rapidly by the Small Business Administration, U.S. Department of Treasury, and other federal and state agencies. We know that you will have many questions that can't be answered until more information is available. Please feel welcome to submit any questions via our new online portal so that we can monitor key areas of questions as we shape additional help for orchestras. However, please understand that most of what we know is contained in the detailed document on our website linked to this email, and we are unlikely to have more answers at this time. We do expect a huge number of inquiries and we plan to provide further updates and a dedicated webinar as soon as more information is available!

The full text of the legislation amounts to nearly 5,600 pages, and the League has published a detailed overview here on the key provisions in the package, including much more information on Save our Stages and the Paycheck Protection Program, which we will update as more information becomes available. Some quick highlights include:

  • Save Our Stages (SOS): Orchestras and talent representatives will be eligible for the Small Business Administration's (SBA) new $15 billion grant program dedicated to providing support for "shuttered venue operators." Orchestras do not need to own their performance space to apply. The SBA has just 10 days after the bill is signed into law to write the rules for how to administer the program.
  • Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): More than $280 billion in new PPP relief will be available, including a limited second opportunity to apply for forgivable loans for those not accessing Save Our Stages grants. Eligible expenses are expanded, and loan forgiveness terms are improved. The SBA is directed to issue complete guidelines within 10 days after passage for implementing the next phase of PPP, which will include important details.
  • Employee Retention Tax Credits (ERTC): The Employee Retention Tax Credits (ERTC) will be extended and significantly expanded, and are compatible with PPP and SOS relief.
  • Charitable Giving Incentives: The new universal charitable deduction for non-itemizers that was created under the CARES Act has been extended to apply throughout the 2021 tax year and raised to $600 for joint filers. More generous deduction limitations for those who itemize their returns and for corporate giving are also extended.
  • Relief for Nonprofits Self-Insuring Unemployment Benefits: Orchestras that self-insure unemployment benefits will continue to have liability reduced by 50% through March 14, 2021.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Compensation: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will be extended, and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits that expired earlier this year are reinstated at $300 per week, through March 14, 2021. An extra $100 per week will be available for certain workers who have a mix of W-2 and 1099 income.
  • National Endowment for the Arts: For FY21, the National Endowment for the Arts received an appropriation of $167.5 million, with special permission added for grant funds to be used for operating expenses.
  • Education Funding: The bill provides an $82 billion Education Stabilization Fund, and FY21 annual funding for the U.S. Department of Education's Arts in Education program fund has been increased to $30.5 million.
  • Broadband Funding: The package includes $7 billion for broadband, including funding for those struggling to afford internet access, $1 billion for broadband on tribal lands, and $300 million for rural broadband deployment.

Again, please see our detailed overview for more, which will be updated as we gain additional information about all of the important next steps in accessing relief!

New Year, New Congress, New Administration
Your extraordinary advocacy efforts really have made a difference! With many relief provisions set to expire in mid-March and unfinished policy debates over liability provisions, workplace safety, pension reform, and state and local funding, lawmakers are already talking about yet another relief effort to take shape following the beginning of the new Congress and new Administration, in late January 2021.

We at the League are extremely grateful for the sustained action orchestras have taken to join with local partners, community leaders, and the full spectrum of the arts and nonprofit sectors to make their voice heard throughout the long month leading up to this relief package. Thank you!