Last updated March 27, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. EDT In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, science and technology centers and museums are redoubling their efforts to serve their communities, even while closing their facilities to the public to do their part to prevent the spread of the virus, and planning for staff reductions. As non-profit organizations and public-private partnerships that depend upon earned revenue from admissions fees, ticket sales, facility rentals, and other sources, many centers and museums have limited financial reserves to sustain their organization through these closures and will require emergency funding and economic relief from government agencies, philanthropies, and other funders. As employers, centers and museums care deeply about the welfare, health, and financial stability of their hardworking staff. Current budgetary realities are prompting some to already make impossible decisions about staffing, since personnel is the largest expense for most institutions. As such, rapid support for staff who may be furloughed or temporarily laid off is a priority for our community, including waiving waiting periods for unemployment and including hourly staff in support plans. Click the links to below to jump to a section of interest:

Policy Updates

On March 25, the Senate passed a third Federal relief bill, which goes to the House on Friday, March 27.  This bill follows the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law on March 18 and the March 6 emergency funding bill which provided $8.3 billion to treat and fight the spread of COVID-19. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a $2.2 trillion package that offers cash payments to individuals and families, expanded unemployment benefits, small business loans of up to $10 million, loan guarantees for specific industries, $30 billion to K-12 schools and universities, funding to states to support the 2020 election, and $50 million to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Read a summary for nonprofits from Independent Sector and the National Council of Nonprofits, as well as summaries from the Washington Post and Politico. ASTC is working on an analysis for our community, which will be posted shortly. Further relief packages are expected in the coming weeks. As the Federal government works through its relief scenarios, Federal agencies are considering how they might be able to repurpose previously appropriated funds to support those impacted by the pandemic. In anticipation of Federal economic stimulus legislation, ASTC joined with other museum associations to send two letters to Congress—the first on Friday, March 13 and the second on Wednesday, March 18. The most recent letter asks Congress to include at least $4 billion for nonprofit museums in COVID-19 economic relief legislation to provide emergency assistance through June and to adopt a temporary “universal charitable deduction” to help incentivize charitable giving, which is expected to decline in the months ahead. State and local governments are issuing executive orders and actively developing plans, including tapping into rainy day funds, developing plans for small business loans and grants, convening task forces, or considering broader emergency legislation. Read more in the “What Can I Do?” section.
Individual Support for Employees
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law on Wednesday, March 18, provides 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. Read a summary for nonprofits. The CARES Act, which still needs to pass the House, would include cash payments to individual taxpayers and expanded unemployment benefits.
Small Business Loans
The Federal government, through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), has extended disaster relief loans to small businesses, including nonprofits, that have been substantially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and are located in eligible regions. According to the SBA, “These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.” Read the fine print. As part of the CARES Act, $349 billion is provided to help small businesses continue to pay employees. This includes nonprofits. Read more from Politico.

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What Can I Do?

Now is the time to reach out to your elected officials—at every level of government—to make sure they understand the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic and state of emergency is having on your institution and your staff. Economic relief and other support plans for institutions, businesses, and individuals are currently being developed at the Federal, state, and local levels. Here are a few key messages that members of ASTC and the American Alliance of Museums have been using in advocacy efforts related to the COVID-19 response.
  • Science and technology centers, as well as other museums and science-engagement institutions are among the many “hard-hit” industries facing immediate impacts—facing 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.
  • Nonprofit museums are in desperate need of significant federal support to maintain jobs, secure our cultural heritage, help to rebuild our nation’s tourism industry – and simply to survive the months to come.
  • 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 health care workers and first responders with child care and meals. “Museums as Economic Engines,” a study from the American Alliance of Museums, provides national and state-level data on the museum sector’s impact on communities.
  • 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).
  • They are also vital local sources of employment, supporting 726,000 jobs annually (source). Any relief that directly supports workers can offset personnel costs, which make up a significant proportion of the average museum’s operating budget.
  • Science and technology centers and museums are among the nation’s most trusted institutions, and play a leading role engaging the public in science, which is so important in situations that require evidence-based decisions, such as this pandemic.
  • Science centers and museums must be included in any economic stimulus relief to ensure that 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.
Join the Growing Federal Advocacy Efforts
Download this template to send a letter to policymakers. You can share the March 18 letter with your Members of Congress, as this will raise the profile of your institution and our community as lawmakers debate the next steps in the Federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. You can remind them that the $50 million provided to IMLS within the CARES Act is not nearly enough to meet the nonprofit museum sector’s $4 billion need through June 2020. Use the talking points above to personalize your message. We are grateful to Senators 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) for signing March 23 letter requesting that Senate leadership include at least $1 billion for nonprofit museums, administered via the Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS) in any forthcoming COVID-19 economic relief legislation. Note: Wyden sent a letter of his own. Here are some tips for contacting Members of Congress:
  • If you have a specific contact or existing relationship with your Members of Congress or their staff, please reach out to them to underscore the importance of considering our community in any economic relief or consideration. Drop us a note at info@astc.org to tell us about your outreach.
  • Members of your Board or Trustees may also be eager to help make the case to Congress or other policymakers and funders on your behalf—don’t forget to ask them to take action as well.
  • Use your Representatives’ and Senators’ web contact forms or call your elected official’s Washington, D.C. or district office (or both). Note that these web forms only accept plain text, i.e., no formatting and no attachments.
  • Click these links to find the contact information for your Senators and Representatives.
  • Think inclusively about your geographic range. Even though your science center is 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—as well as any estimates of impacts to your revenue, operating funds, and staffing levels—please include this data in your letters.
Understand What Is Happening at the State and Local Levels
The National Conference of State Legislatures and Stateside, a government relations firm, are both tracking and publicly reporting out state legislative actions, executive agency actions, and gubernatorial actions. The National League of Cities is collecting and sharing action taken by mayors and local leaders. 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 in which 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.—as this may open up additional funding possibilities and establish a deeper relationship that you can build on in the future. Use this template to craft a letter to share. ASTC is looking to its members to share with each other, and with us, 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 with the officials you are talking with.
Re-engage Other Funders
While public funding and support will be key to supporting our centers and museums in the next few months, asking current funders—such as foundations, other philanthropists, and corporate giving programs—for increased flexibility withinexisting grants may also help you continue to develop innovative approaches to advancing your mission during this critical time for your community. If you are considering asking for emergency support from these sources, keep in mind that many philanthropic funders and corporations have been hit hard hit by market declines in recent weeks. Please feel free to use the templates and messages that we have developed for elected officials to help make the case to funders for additional support. If there are other resources that would be helpful with current or new funders, please email info@astc.org to tell us how we can help.

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How Can I Amplify My Messages?

  • Leverage your board. Trustees and Board members can be your biggest supporters and act as allies in sharing these messages and 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 local 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. The Council of Nonprofits sent a coalition letter to Congress, and the American Alliance of Museums issued an advocacy action alert to ask their members to boost the letter with Members of Congress.
  • 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 $4 billion in 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.”
  • Will Daugherty, President & CEO of the Pacific Science Center, tweeted the following message:

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Please let us know about actions you’re taking—we’d love to hear about successes and challenges, and be able to share any advocacy and communications materials you create with other ASTC members. Email info@astc.org.
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