GOP, Democratic senators call for more assistance to local media in coronavirus stimulus

GOP, Democratic senators call for more assistance to local media in coronavirus stimulus
© Greg Nash

A group of Democratic and Republican senators is pushing for Congress to ensure that more local news outlets are eligible for small business assistance in any future coronavirus stimulus package.

In a letter sent to Senate leadership on Saturday, the bipartisan group noted that thousands of newspapers, as well as hundreds of radio and television stations, were excluded from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) because of a Small Business Administration rule restricting assistance to companies owned by larger entities.

“Waiving SBA’s affiliation rules for local newspapers and broadcasters and ensuring that financial assistance flows to the local affiliate, not the parent company, would allow these small, local operations to be eligible for much-needed financial relief,” Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE (D-Minn.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanCOVID-19 relief talks look dead until September  Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick The Hill's Coronavirus Report: San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Artistic Director Tim Seelig says choirs are dangerous; Pence says, 'We have saved lives' MORE (R-Ark.) and Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Key Democrat opposes GOP Section 230 subpoena for Facebook, Twitter, Google Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg acknowledges failure to take down Kenosha military group despite warnings | Election officials push back against concerns over mail-in voting, drop boxes MORE (D-Wash.) wrote. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"Local newspapers and broadcasters have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, are essential for maintaining a well-informed public, and deserve our help."

The coronavirus pandemic is posing devastating consequences for the news industry, as publishers around the country suffer a drastic drop in advertising revenue prompted by a mass closure of non-essential businesses. An estimated 33,000 people working in media have been laid off, furloughed or had their pay reduced since the virus spread to the U.S., according to The New York Times

The cuts have led to growing calls for Congress to lend greater assistance to the industry, in particular local news outlets who have faced financial struggles for years now. 

"Ensuring that local news outlets remain viable at this critical time is not only a matter of fairness, but is essential to public health," the senators wrote, noting that the stimulus package approved in March included provisions waiving the small business affiliation rule for hotels and restaurants. 

"The same consideration should extend to local news outlets in light of their vital role in maintaining public health," they added.

ADVERTISEMENT

Their letter noted that Reps. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineClark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race Races heat up for House leadership posts The folly of Cicilline's 'Glass-Steagall for Tech' MORE (D-R.I.) and Representative Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerRepublicans call for Judiciary hearing into unrest in cities run by Democrats Scott Fitzgerald wins Wisconsin GOP primary to replace Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner Hillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against 'misinformation' | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence MORE (R-Wisc.) are spearheading a similar effort in the House. 

The push from the senators comes about a week after the largest media trade groups in the U.S. called on Congress to grant extensive relief to the news business in response to the pandemic. It also follows a letter signed by 18 Democratic senators and Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingHopes for DC, Puerto Rico statehood rise Government watchdog recommends creation of White House cyber director position Democrats step up hardball tactics as Supreme Court fight heats up MORE (Maine) pushing for additional local news funding. 

The News Media Alliance, National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), National Newspaper Association (NNA) and America’s Newspapers in early April asked for lawmakers to ensure that any local news outlet could apply for relief under the Paycheck Protection Program, regardless of ownership. They also called on the federal government to fund local media through advertising campaigns. 

NAB told The Hill that small business loans in the first stimulus package were only allocated for broadcasters and newspapers with fewer than 500 employees. A change to this provision could help thousands of news outlets, the group said. 

"America’s broadcasters are providing trusted and credible lifesaving coverage to keep citizens safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet local stations are suffering advertising losses of historic proportion that will undermine this critically important service. We urge Congressional leaders to support this proposal to provide immediate SBA loan eligibility to more local radio and TV stations," NAB President Gordon Smith said. 

The initial $349 billion allotted for the Paycheck Protection Program ran out of money many last week as Republicans and Democrats clashed over how to replenish it. The program provides loans to small businesses which are forgivable if they use the money for certain expenses, including retaining staff. 

The Trump administration and Democratic leaders have said they're "hopeful" a new agreement for small business loans will be reached this week.