This post was written in collaboration with the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) and is cross posted on the ACM blog.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on science and technology centers and museums, natural history museums, children’s museums, and other STEM-rich, place-based institutions. Our field is beginning to get a sense of what the coming months and years will bring as the severe impacts of the pandemic continue beyond what was originally anticipated. In addition, much of the immediate Federal relief—which has been a lifeline for many institutions—is coming to an end, even though a return to normal operations is a long way off.
ASTC, along with other national museums associations such as the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM), the Association of Science Museum Directors (ASMD), and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), continues to tell the story of the pandemic’s impact on our members across the country. Your institution can play an important role by showing elected officials how these national issues are affecting their districts and their voters.
We encourage you to invite your Members of Congress for a virtual or in-person visit this August, so that they can hear your story and see how you continue to serve your community. You’ll be joining hundreds of other museums who participate in #InviteCongress—a national field-wide effort led by AAM and supported by a number of other national museum associations—to encourage and empower museums of all types and sizes to invite legislators to visit museums across the U.S.
Organizing a Visit
During August, Congress is expected to be on recess for much of the month, meaning that your Representative and Senators are likely to be in their home districts:
- House of Representatives: Monday, August 3 through Friday, September 4
- Senate: Monday, August 10 through Monday, September 7
Visits by Members of Congress and their staff can be done virtually or, where it is prudent to do so, in person. AAM has prepared step-by-step guidance on how to draft and manage an invitation, design an itinerary, and prepare for the visit. Get your invitation out soon, as Members’ calendars may fill up quickly!
Federal Funding Can Provide Relief During the Pandemic
While the majority of institutions in our community do not receive regular or substantial Federal funding, many did receive lifeline support from Federal COVID-19 relief programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). However, those museums that received PPP loans have generally already exhausted those limited-time funds. Some museums, such as government- and university-affiliated museums, needed PPP funding, but were not eligible because their parent organizations were too large.
Through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) all received funding to distribute via grants to museums, but these funding programs were small in scope and only reached a handful of science-engagement institutions.
Without additional substantial support from the Federal government, our community remains at risk for permanent closures.
What’s Next for COVID-19 Relief?
Congress is expected to negotiate and pass another COVID-19 relief bill before the August recess. While ASTC and other national museums associations have requested that Congress include a number of provisions to benefit our community, including museum-specific relief, expansion and extension of PPP, and more, it is unknown whether they will be included in this next bill.
As future relief legislation is being considered, we need to be certain that it benefits all museums. There are also opportunities for Congress to provide support through the normal budgeting process for fiscal year (FY) 2021, which will begin on October 1, 2020.
Regular Funding for Federal Agencies Remains Unresolved
While attention has been focused on COVID-19 relief, several key Federal agencies can still support the museum field through their regular annual budget allocations or through additional stimulus funding. These include the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA), NASA, the National Institutes for Health (NIH), the Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Congress has yet to decide on FY 2021 funding levels, so for those institutions that regularly receive funding from these agencies, showing Members of Congress the impact and importance of Federal funding will help keep our community’s needs front of mind as they move through the FY 2021 appropriations process.
National Advocacy Work
ASTC is a part of a broader coalition of museum associations advocating for Congress to create a $6 billion relief fund for museums. The coalition continues to work with other national nonprofit organizations to advocate for continued emergency relief funding, such as extending and expanding PPP, providing access to low-cost loans for midsize and large nonprofits that have not been able to access Federal relief funding, and enacting and expanding grant and funding programs that help nonprofits retain employees, scale service delivery, and create new jobs. Learn more about past advocacy actions on ASTC’s COVID-19 Toolkit.