March 2, 2021

In This Issue

Speak up: Congress finalizing next relief package

Congress is rapidly advancing a new $1.9 trillion package of COVID-19 relief, building on a proposal by the Biden-Harris Administration, and using the budget reconciliation process to speed approval with a simple majority vote in the Senate. The bill is being taken up by the Senate this week, where final changes to the scope of the relief provided will be rapidly considered as Congress aims to send a completed package to the President’s desk before a number of provisions expire in mid-March.

Nearly every form of federal relief accessed by orchestras and their partners in the arts and nonprofit sectors since the beginning of the pandemic could be expanded and extended in some way, and critical new forms of help are also on the table.

Thank you for continuing to speak up! Please continue to make your voice heard this week through the resources in the League of American Orchestras’ dedicated COVID-19 campaign:

  • Overview of what’s in the newest relief package 
  • Detailed talking points to customize and use in your phone calls and letters to elected officials 
  • Tips for how to connect with your members of Congress 
  • Orchestras are joining their voices with others across the arts (PDF) and throughout the nonprofit sector (PDF) to describe how COVID-19 relief can support community needs. 

Pension Relief Proposed in New COVID-19 Bill

Among the many provisions under consideration in the newest federal relief package, huge progress has been made to include substantial and long-awaited relief for both single- and multi-employer pension plans.

The Butch-Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021 is included in the larger COVID-19 bill rapidly making its way through Congress and would relieve the current strain on both single- and multi-employer plans. This section-by-section summary (PDF) is just three pages and your quickest route to an overview of the current status of the proposed relief, as Congress continues to work to finalize the overall COVID-19 package in the coming days. 

The League is grateful to the American Federation of Musicians for its partnership and leadership in the years that have built toward advancing this policy action. Orchestras participating in both single- and multi-employer plans can continue to speak up to let Congress know that pension provisions must be included in the final COVID-19 relief package. On the multi-employer front, the American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) has posted a message on its Congressional action page expressing support for the legislation and providing a sample message for AFM-EPF participating employers and musicians to use when weighing in with Congress.

Newest Developments on Shuttered Venue Operator Grants and PPP Loans

Even as Congress advances the next COVID-19 relief bill, federal agencies are still working to administer current forms of support signed into law last December. The League’s COVID-19 Federal Assistance Resources keep you up to date on the status of the full array of available federal relief, including information about the expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit, which is compatible with both the Paycheck Protection Program and Shuttered Venue Operator grants. Meanwhile, note these two important updates:    

Shuttered Venue Operator Grants: On February 28, the Small Business Administration (SBA) posted a substantially updated set of Frequently Asked Questions, outlining eligibility for the Shuttered Venue Operator Grants (SVOG) program. The newest FAQ states that declines in gross revenue will determine an applicant’s eligibility for the priority grant award periods. The FAQ also includes an extensive list of defined terms and updates regarding eligible uses of funds and applications by affiliated organizations. The program is not yet open for applications, and the SBA has confirmed that further guidance is still in development. The agency plans to post comprehensive guidance, the application form, and training materials before the grant application portal is opened. 

In the meantime, please consult the following resources: 

The League is asking policy leaders to take action to complete and finalize guidance to inform immediate decisions by applicants, take action to launch the program as soon as possible, and ensure the program is adequately funded to meet the needs of all seeking relief.

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): As orchestras and other applicants continue to make a final decision between seeking a Shuttered Venues grant or a PPP loan in 2021, the White House and SBA announced that starting on Wednesday, February 24 a 14-day period began during which Paycheck Protection Program applications will only be accepted from applicants with fewer than 20 employees and sole proprietors. The period ends on March 9, 2021, at 5:00pm Eastern. The SBA is also rolling out a new funding formula to better support sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals. According to the SBA announcement, “This will give lenders and community partners more time to work with the smallest businesses to submit their applications, while also ensuring that larger PPP-eligible businesses will still have plenty of time to apply for and receive support before the program expires on March 31, 2021.” The League has joined the broader nonprofit sector in asking Congress to expand the end date (PDF) for the Paycheck Protection Program from March 31, 2021 to the end of the calendar year.

Tune in to Music Advocacy this Month and Beyond

Given the extremely challenging learning circumstances amid the COVID-19 crisis, our collective commitment to improving music education opportunities in school for all children is stronger than ever. In fact, educators and policymakers are paying even closer attention to social and emotional learning, in which the arts excel. Throughout the month of March, which is national Music in Our Schools Month (#MIOSM), the League urges orchestras to check in with your local schools and music educators, inquire how you might be able to best support school-based and community-partnered learning, and ask how you can help advocate for their work to receive the support it needs from the school district. In addition to our own Music Education Advocacy Tools, the League has newly partnered with the Arts ARE Education, a national campaign committed to supporting equitable access to arts education. Take a moment to review their advocacy toolbox and consider customizing the Dear School Board Letter for your local districts! Let us know how you’re supporting school-based music education by tagging the League and including #MIOSM in your posts!

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