Congress has officially passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package. With it comes a significant boost for arts and culture.
The relief bill includes $470 million earmarked for cultural organizations, with $135 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and $200 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
The bulk of the NEA and NEH funding—60 percent—is set aside for direct grants and relevant administrative expenses for programming related to the pandemic. The rest will go to state arts agencies and regional arts organizations to help support local institutions and nonprofits.
It’s a big step up from the $75 million each that the NEA and the NEH received in the first stimulus deal last March, and the $5.25 million boosts to their annual budgets approved in December’s emergency spending package, which was part of a larger omnibus spending bill for the year.
With the signatures of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the new bill, all that remains is for the president to sign it into law. “This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation—the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going—a fighting chance,” Biden said in a statement.
Former President Donald Trump unsuccessfully fought to dissolve the NEA throughout his time in office. But the endowment’s budget actually increased over the last four years, up from $149.8 million at the start of his term.
The $135 million relief grants for the NEA and NEH serve to almost double their budgets in 2021. But even when combined with earlier aid, the latest round of funding still falls far short of the $4 billion in funding the arts sector had called for in the #CongressSaveCulture campaign launched by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art just over a year ago.
The nation’s cultural sector has been devastated by the pandemic, with a report from the American Alliance of Museums finding that thousands of US museums may be forced to close. New York City alone lost two thirds of its jobs in its arts, entertainment, and recreation sector over the past year, according to the New York state comptroller’s office.
The new stimulus bill also offers an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which has helped numerous art organizations stay afloat over the past year, as well as offering loans to artists and freelancers. It includes $1,400 checks for individuals who earn up to $75,000 annually or households earning $150,000 or less each year.
Federal unemployment benefits of $300 a week are extended through September, but a provision to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years was cut from the final draft of the bill.
December’s aid package also had $15 billion in funding for live music venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions; and provided authorization for the Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino, two new Smithsonian museums to be built on or near the National Mall in Washington, DC.