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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 KlobucharSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus Do Democrats really want unity? Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts MORE (D-Minn.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanSenate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto Republican senators introduce bill to protect government workers from being targeted at home Business groups scramble to forge ties amid race for House Agriculture chair MORE (R-Ark.) and Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenators vet Buttigieg to run Transportation Department Hillicon Valley: Texas, other states bring antitrust lawsuit against Google | Krebs emphasizes security of the election as senators butt heads | Twitter cracks down on coronavirus vaccine misinformation Senators press federal agencies for more information on Russian cyberattack MORE (D-Wash.) wrote. 

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"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.

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Their letter noted that Reps. David CicillineDavid CicillineK Street navigates virtual inauguration week Washington state rep joins list of Republicans voting to impeach Trump Growing number of GOP lawmakers say they support impeachment MORE (D-R.I.) and Representative Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerGOP puts pressure on Pelosi over Swalwell House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit House Judiciary Republicans mockingly tweet 'Happy Birthday' to Hillary Clinton after Barrett confirmation 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 KingThe next pandemic may be cyber — How Biden administration can stop it Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief Angus King warns of 'grave danger' of Trump revealing classified information 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.