The U.S. legislative landscape continues to evolve as the world learns more about the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. ASTC is listening to our members’ experiences on the ground, and actively working with other museum associations and science engagement stakeholders to advocate for immediate Federal relief and develop policy recommendations that ensure our community’s role in the nation’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
On this webpage, you can find advocacy and communications tools to use with elected officials, as well as the latest Federal policy developments. Jump to the section of interest by clicking the links below:
Please share your advocacy successes, challenges, and insights with ASTC by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We also encourage you to share with each other via ASTC’s Advocacy and Public Policy Community of Practice. For more policy and advocacy updates, follow our blog.
Key Messages to Make the Case
Here are a few key messages that ASTC and other advocates for nonprofit museums have been using in advocacy efforts related to the COVID-19 response.
Current State of the Field
- Science and technology centers, as well as other museums and science-engagement institutions, are among the many “hard-hit” industries facing immediate impacts like extreme revenue loss that will result in widespread furloughs and layoffs.
- We have temporarily closed so that our institution can comply with and model responsible social distancing guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities and “flatten the curve.”
- Nationwide, museums are losing at least $33 million a day due to closures. Institutions like ours are heavily dependent on earned revenue—which includes admission revenue, education and program fees, memberships, and facilities rentals—to deliver on our mission.
- Significant impacts will be felt at our institution for months or years, even after society has returned to “normal.” The experience with past epidemics—such as the SARS outbreak in 2003—suggests that restoring normal patterns of visitation to science centers and museums may take two years or longer.
- The hands-on nature of many science museums—which helps make them effective learning institutions—poses a particular challenge in restoring public confidence, regardless of the science-based protocols our community will implement to ensure their facilities are safe for visitors once again. A recent analysis suggests that science centers will take the longest to fully recover to normal levels as compared with fellow museums, zoos, aquariums, and public gardens (source).
- Despite these threats, science centers and museums are rising to the occasion and engaging their communities by educating them about COVID-19, convening conversations between the public and experts, providing virtual exhibitions and online learning opportunities, putting together “drop-off” learning kits for teachers and parents, maintaining outdoor spaces to provide quiet places to relieve stress during this time of high anxiety, and supporting the families of healthcare workers and first responders with childcare and meals.
Museums’ Impact on the Economy and Workforce
- Museums are economic engines—they contribute $50 billion a year to the U.S. economy and generate $12 billion in tax revenue to local, state, and Federal governments (source; state data available).
- They are also vital local sources of employment, supporting 726,000 jobs annually (source; state data available). Any relief that directly supports workers can offset personnel costs, which make up a significant proportion of the average museum’s operating budget.
A Unique Contribution to Society
- Organizations like science and technology centers and museums—and our sister institutions children’s museums, zoos and aquariums, natural history museums, planetariums, and public and botanic gardens—play a leading role in engaging the public with science (source) and are among the nation’s most trusted institutions (source).
- In the short term, science centers and museums are leveraging our high level of public trust to provide education on COVID-19 and fight misinformation about its spread. By empowering the public with the information to make informed decisions and lower their risk of contracting or spreading disease, science centers can help sustain healthy communities, maintain calm, and reduce the chances of an increase in discrimination or xenophobia often created by global diseases.
- In the long term, they can build community science literacy, which is so critical in societal crises that require evidence-based decisions, such as this pandemic.
- Science centers and museums are also community anchors that develop innovative responses to community needs through enduring relationships with a range of partners, including school districts, youth-serving nonprofits, community-based organizations, public libraries, local businesses, and more.
What Our Community Needs
- Science and technology centers and museums must be included in any economic relief or stimulus package to ensure that community-based organizations like ours remain vibrant and able to resume their mission to engage, inspire, and increase public understanding of scientific issues and grow the number of students who are excited about pursuing STEM careers.
- It is also critical to include this community in new opportunities for partnerships and funding. Even with reduced staff levels, science centers can partner with schools and districts to provide virtual teacher professional development and distance learning modules; they can continue to develop resources for parents and children to learn together at home; and they can partner with Federal scientific agencies or local public health agencies to communicate COVID-19 science to the public.
- Any investment in U.S. research and development to aid in the response and recovery from COVID-19—both short-term and long-term—should incorporate funding for public engagement, science communication, and science learning as essential elements. The science center community has existing expertise in effective engagement and learning approaches, particularly for populations underrepresented in STEM.
- Both the recovery of our nation from this emergency—and longer-term efforts to advance public health and scientific research to prevent and minimize the impact of future similar events—depend upon our nation’s ability to provide quality lifelong STEM education and learning for all Americans.
Federal Advocacy Efforts in the United States
Four bills supporting U.S. relief and recovery efforts have already been signed into law (see below for an overview), and the next Federal relief package is currently under development and deliberation. On May 15, the U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote on the HEROES Act or the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (H.R. 6800). While the HEROES Act is not expected to pass the Senate, it does indicate the current priorities of House Democratic leadership.
Science and technology center and museum advocates should continue to engage their members of Congress to lift up our community’s needs. For example, the HEROES Act addresses some of the implementation issues of the CARES Act small business loan programs, but it only included $5 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and does not address some of other concerns that we’ve been hearing from the ASTC community.
ASTC continues to advocate on behalf of its members, working with other museum associations and science engagement stakeholders. Please contact email@example.com if there are questions we can answer or concerns that we can help with.
Federal COVID-19 Relief Legislation Passed To Date
- April 24: The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act replenished two of the small business loan programs authorized by the CARES Act—the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program—with an additional $484 billion as the original funds were quickly exhausted. The bill also provided funding for hospitals and for coronavirus testing.
- March 27: The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided cash payments to individual taxpayers, expanded unemployment benefits, established loan programs for small businesses, encouraged charitable giving, and appropriated funding for select Federal agencies. ASTC’s “Guidance for Business and Operations” provides additional information about the CARES Act small business loan programs. Learn more about the grants available via the CARES Act funding provided to IMLS and the Department of Education.
- March 18: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act offered support for individuals and families through the form of food and nutrition assistance, emergency leave for workers, coverage for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, and funds for states to support unemployment benefits.
- March 6: An emergency funding bill provided $8.3 billion to treat and fight the spread of COVID-19.
ASTC’s Recent Advocacy Actions
- May 7: Signed onto a letter led by the [Re]Build America’s School Infrastructure Coalition, requesting that Congressional leadership includes funding for public school infrastructure in any future COVID-19 stimulus package. View the letter.
- May 5: Signed onto a letter led by the Charitable Giving Coalition, requesting that Congressional leadership expands the temporary universal charitable deduction and enhance incentives to encourage giving to nonprofits. View the letter.
- April 20: Signed onto a coalition letter with professional scientific societies in support of House and Senate resolutions to denounce anti-Asian discrimination as related to COVID-19. Read the blog post and download the letter.
- April 17: Contributed to a set of Federal policy recommendations from the STEM Education Coalition to address the challenges faced by the STEM education community due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the recommendations.
- April 13: Sent a letter to the House Space, Science, and Technology Committee to make the case for the role of STEM engagement and education in the nation’s immediate response and long-term recovery plans. Read the blog post.
- April 13: Contributed to a set of recommendations from the Coalition for National Science Funding for future investment in the National Science Foundation to aid in COVID-19 response and recovery. View the letter.
- April 6: Sent a letter to Congressional leadership to encourage support for nonprofit museums as they navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic—including a dedicated fund $6 billion through the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Read the blog post or download the letter.
Results of Collective Advocacy
- On May 6, a coalition of 143 chambers of commerce sent a letter to Congressional leadership requesting Federal relief and funding for the cultural and performing arts sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic, including museums, aquariums, and zoos. Chambers of commerce, which represent local business of all sizes and sectors, add a powerful voice to the museum community’s continued advocacy efforts.
- On April 16, 88 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to House leadership to address concerns about the CARES Act. The letter closely reflects a set of joint asks sent by a coalition of nine museum associations, including ASTC, to House leadership on April 6. Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Fred Upton (R-MI) were the original authors and cosponsors of the letter.
- On March 23, a group of 10 Senators including Cory Booker (NJ), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sherrod Brown (OH), Edward Markey (MA), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Robert Menendez (NJ), Tina Smith (MN), Chris Van Hollen (MD), and Ron Wyden (OR) sent a letter requesting that Senate leadership provide at least $1 billion for nonprofit museums, administered by IMLS in any forthcoming COVID-19 economic relief legislation. (Note: Wyden sent a letter of his own.) These letters drew on two previous museum coalition requests: the first on March 13 and the second on March 18.
Tips for Contacting Members of Congress
- If you have a specific contact or existing relationships with your Members of Congress or their staff, please reach out to underscore the importance of considering our community in any economic relief or consideration. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us about your outreach.
- Don’t forget to ask your Board Members or Trustees to take action as well. They may also be eager to help make the case to Congress or other policymakers and funders on your behalf.
- Use your Representatives’ and Senators’ web contact forms or call their Washington, D.C. or district office (or both). Note that these web forms only accept plain text, i.e., no formatting and no attachments.
- Follow these links to find the contact information for your Senators and Representatives.
- Think inclusively about your geographic range. Even though your science center may be located in one Congressional district, it surely serves a much broader population around your state and region.
- If you can, cite specific visitor and program attendance data in your letters along with any estimates of impacts to your revenue, operating funds, and staffing levels.
Advocacy at the State and Local Levels
While much is rapidly changing at the state and local levels, it is beneficial to reach out to governors, state representatives, and city officials to put your institution and the broader community of science and technology centers and museums on their radar. In your outreach to state and local officials, you can inquire about actions currently in development and make suggestions for how museums might be involved.
Don’t forget to lift up the ways you continue to contribute to the well-being of your community—such as serving as emergency feeding sites, offering childcare, offering online learning for students whose schools have closed, communicating evidence-based science to the public, etc. This may open up additional funding possibilities and establish a deeper relationship to build on in the future.
Tools You Can Use:
- The National Conference of State Legislatures, the Tax Foundation, and Stateside, a government relations firm, are tracking and reporting actions by state legislatures, executive agencies, and governors.
- The National League of Cities is collecting and sharing actions taken by mayors and local leaders.
- The Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker provides a real-time picture of state, county, and metro-area indicators such as employment rates, consumer spending, and job postings across counties, industries, and income groups.
ASTC encourages its members to share with each other, and with us, news about what is emerging at the local level. We encourage you to use ASTC’s Advocacy and Public Policy Community of Practice to share any specific state-level resources or the messages that are resonating.
How Can I Amplify My Messages?
- Leverage your board. Trustees and Board members can be your biggest supporters and act as allies in making the case to elected officials, funders, and other supporters.
- Look for opportunities for collective advocacy. Your voice is stronger with others. Reach out to your fellow cultural institutions, nonprofits, or education organizations—particularly those in your region or state—as they likely share your concerns and can be resources for strategizing what local and state advocacy might look like. If you belong to other national associations, which may have state affiliates, you can plug into their advocacy efforts.
- Communicate what you are doing. In addition to your elected officials, your members, community partners, funders, and the larger public should all know how you’re being impacted, how you’re responding, and what support you’re requesting from Federal, state, and local governments. Reach them through email, social media, or other virtual platforms.
Example Social Media
Here are a few sample social media messages to get you started. Be sure to tag your elected officials! Find the Twitter handles for Members of Congress here.
- Science centers & museums are economic engines that employ workers & boost local economies. We face extreme hardship in the face of #COVID19. Support dedicated relief so we can continue our mission!
- #Museums are losing a $33 million a day due to closures as a result of #COVID19. Support our ask to Congress for $4 billion in dedicated relief so we can continue our missions for #sciengage & #STEMed!
- We are doing our part to prevent the spread of #coronavirus. Even if our doors are closed, we’re supporting this community by [insert example].
- Science centers & museums are among the nation’s most trusted institutions. We engage learners of all ages with #science. This work is critical for making evidence-based decisions & navigating crises like #COVID19.
- Science centers & #museums are among the nation’s most trusted institutions. The public trusts us to provide education on #COVID19 & fight #misinformation about its spread.
- #COVID19 emphasizes why it’s so important to build #communityscience literacy. Any new Federal scientific research should come with dedicated #sciengage funding!