State of Play: News on Federal Relief, Visa Fee Hikes, and FY21 Funding Progress
August 6, 2020
Continued Advocacy Needed! Next Federal Relief Package Nears Completion
Congress continues to consider a massive package of COVID-19 relief that may be completed in the coming few days. The contents of the final bill will determine support available to the nonprofit arts sector, its workforce, and the communities it serves. Key decisions are being made right now to determine who will qualify for relief. Please use these resources:
- League summary of key policy developments (updated August 3)
- Key policy requests advanced in partnership with the arts and nonprofit sectors
- Advocacy campaign, with customizable letter to Congress
Thank you to the many advocates who have taken a moment to speak up! Please continue to weigh in with your elected officials. As soon as the next relief package is complete, the League will provide detailed information about available forms of relief.
Quick Federal Policy News
- SBA Issues New FAQ on PPP Loan Forgiveness
On August 4, the Small Business Administration (SBA) released a new Frequently Asked Questions on Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness (PDF). In addition to the SBA FAQs, the League’s COVID-19 federal assistance resources include several webinars stepping through the PPP process, as well as links to PPP guidance issued to date.
- Partial Fix for Self-Insured Unemployment Costs Signed Into Law
On Monday, August 3, the “Protecting Nonprofits from Catastrophic Cash Flow Strain Act” (S. 4209) was signed into law. This legislation is one of many requests the League and the larger nonprofit community had been urging Congress to pass, in order to ease the burden of unemployment compensation costs for self-insured nonprofits. The CARES Act provided 50 percent reimbursement of costs, but self-insured employers were required to pay 100 percent of the benefits costs upfront and receive 50 percent reimbursement later. While eliminating the requirement for nonprofits to pay 100 percent upfront is a partial victory, advocates continue to make the case for federal relief to cover 100 percent of costs.
- USDA Delays Implementation of New Import Rules
While travel is currently limited, federal agencies continue to craft new rules that will affect travel with musical instruments across borders. This week the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to delay the implementation of new rules regarding wood products that enter the U.S., providing one form of relief that was requested in comments filed by the League (PDF) on July 1, along with our partners at the American Federation of Musicians, Chamber Music America, and the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers.
Steep Artist Visa Fee Increases and Policy Changes to Take Effect October 2, 2020
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has denied the requests outlined in detailed comments submitted by the League and national nonprofit arts stakeholders in response to the DHS December proposal to impose very steep increases to some of its filing fees, including for O and P artist visas applications. DHS finalized (PDF) its fee increases and policy changes, to take effect beginning October 2, 2020:
- The filing fee for O petitions will increase by 53 percent from $460 to $705 per petition, utilizing a new Form I-129O
- The filing fee for P petitions will increase by 51 percent from $460 to $695 per petition, utilizing a new Form I-129MISC
- Beneficiaries will be capped at 25 people per petition
- Premium Processing will lengthen to a window of fifteen federal working days rather than calendar days
For complete details, please see our news item on the League’s dedicated website, Artists from Abroad. When Forms I-129O and I-129MISC become available, Artists from Abroad will be updated with new templates and guidance. The League continues to advocate for improved policies and will reiterate the U.S. Performing Arts Sector Request for COVID-Related Flexibility from USCIS and Department of State (PDF).
U.S. House Recommends NEA and Arts Education Increases for FY21
Last month, the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives advanced all twelve of its funding bills for FY21, followed shortly by passage by the full House of a package containing nearly all of them. The recommendations included in the House-passed measure are: $170 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities (a $7.75M increase for each agency from the current year) and $31 million for Arts in Education programs at the U.S. Department of Education (a $1M increase from the current year). The House funding bill also calls for a $10M increase for Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) State Grants, which provides flexible resources to improve student access to a well-rounded education, and an advance appropriation recommendation of $515 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (a $50M increase). The appropriations bill includes accompanying language that calls for the NEA to report on “how NEA Performance goals improve the diversity of artistic representation and the steps taken to ensure that NEA staff, the National Council [on] the Arts, Discipline Directors, and Peer Panelists include members from minority and underserved communities.” Senate subcommittees have yet to release FY21 bills.
Music Education is Essential
The League joined more than fifty national organizations issuing the statement, Arts Education Is Essential (PDF), which succinctly reminds school administrators and the public that — especially in the context of COVID-19 — arts education contributes to the social and emotional well-being of students, encourages student expression, and is essential to a well-rounded education for all students. These are among the highest priorities for schools, and the delivery of high-quality arts instruction is not only possible, but it is a necessary part of the school experience in-school and online. As public funding for education becomes increasingly imperiled amid the coronavirus pandemic, music education advocates should speak up in both short and longer-term budget discussions taking place at the local and state levels. Be sure to utilize the League’s collection of resources to support advocacy for school-based music education and take note that National Arts in Education Week will be celebrated this year from September 13 through 19. This will be a great opportunity to join others in bringing visibility to the importance of music education, using the hashtags #AIEWeek and #artsed.