June 04, 2020

Udall, Heinrich Urge Senate Leadership To Increase Funding For Nonprofit Museums In The Next COVID-19 Package

In New Mexico, the museum sector employs nearly 5,000 people and contributes almost $300 million to the state’s GDP

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), along with 21 Senate colleagues, are urging Senate leadership to provide emergency assistance to nonprofit museums in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Senators Udall and Heinrich are asking to direct $2 billion to nonprofit museums through the Institute of Museums and Library Services in the upcoming COVID-19 package.

The letter comes in the aftermath of a massive loss in revenue for museums due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a study conducted by the American Alliance of Museums, museums are losing $33 million a day due to COVID-19 related closures. These closures are impacting workers, as museums employ 726,000 workers nationally. In New Mexico, the museum sector employs nearly 5,000 people and contributes almost $300 million to the state’s GDP.

“Without the help of the federal government, as many as 30% of museums, mostly in small and rural communities, will not reopen without significant additional emergency financial assistance,” the lawmakers wrote. “Museums are community anchors, and are pivotal to our nation’s ability to manage through the pandemic and recover. The COVID-19 pandemic has levied tremendous financial pressure on the country’s museums, and it is critical that Congress direct substantial additional federal relief for these institutions to weather this crisis and remain community bedrocks for years to come.”

The letter has the support of the American Alliance of Museums, which represents over 35,000 professionals, volunteers, and institutions in the sector.

The letter, led by U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), was also signed by U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ed Markey (D-MA ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D- R.I.), Ron Wyden (D- Ore.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D- Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

Read the full text of the letter below or by clicking here. 

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

COVID-19 related closures are jeopardizing the survival of the nation’s museum community. We write to request that Congress provide substantial relief beyond that which was included in the CARES Act, so the nonprofit museum sector can continue to pay their employees, provide online services to community members, and reopen once the crisis subsides.

Most museums anticipate closures and reduced attendance through at least the end of 2020. Normal revenue from admissions fees, retail sales, and event rentals have effectively ceased, and charitable contributions are expected to continue to decline dramatically. According to the American Alliance of Museums, museums are losing at least $33 million a day due to COVID-19 related closures, and are in dire need of additional significant federal support. 

As you develop phase 4 COVID-19 response and recovery legislation, we urge you to include at least $2 billion for the Institute for Museums and Library Services to administer for nonprofit museums in COVID-19 economic relief legislation to provide emergency assistance through the end of 2020.

The nonprofit museum community operates on thin margins of financial sustainability, without large designated operational reserve funds, and is often largely dependent on earned revenue from people visiting in-person. With their doors shuttered for this extended stretch of time, as many as 30% of museums, mostly in small and rural communities, will not reopen without significant additional emergency financial assistance.

Museums are a robust and diverse business sector, including African American museums, aquariums, arboreta, art museums, botanic gardens, children’s museums, cultural museums, historic sites, historical societies, history museums, maritime museums, military museums, natural history museums, planetariums, presidential libraries, public gardens, railway museums, science and technology centers, and zoos.

These institutions are powerful engines for our nation’s economy. Economic impact data compiled by the American Alliance of Museums and Oxford Economics shows that museums contribute $50 billion a year to the U.S. economy and generate $12 billion in tax revenue to local, state, and federal governments. Museums also are vital local sources of employment, supporting 726,000 direct and indirect jobs annually. Museums spend more than $2 billion a year on education. The collapse of the museum sector would have devastating impacts for this country’s economy and educational system.

There is also widespread consensus among Americans that we should invest in our museums. According to a recent public opinion poll, 96% of Americans would think positively of their elected officials taking legislative action to support museums, regardless of political persuasion or community size. Additionally, 97% of Americans believe that museums are educational assets, and 89% believe that museums contribute important economic benefits to their community. Museums are also the most trusted source of information in America, rated higher than local papers, nonprofit researchers, the U.S. government, or academic researchers. Museums can leverage this high level of public trust to provide education on COVID-19 and fight misinformation about its spread. By empowering the public with the information they need to make informed decisions and lower their risk of contracting or spreading disease, museums can help sustain healthy communities, maintain calm, and fight discrimination and xenophobia, which have spiked in recent months.

Even as museums are experiencing closures and significant losses in revenue, they are meeting increased demand for their services and safeguarding and supporting their communities. They are contributing to the ongoing education of our country’s children by providing lesson plans, online learning opportunities, and drop-off learning kits to teachers and families. They are using their outdoor spaces to grow and donate produce to area food banks; and maintaining these spaces for individuals to safely relax, enjoy nature, and recover from the mental health impacts of social isolation. They are donating their PPE and scientific equipment to fight COVID-19, and providing access to child care and meals to families of health care workers and first responders. In the midst of financial distress, they are even raising funds for community relief. Museums are community anchors, and are pivotal to our nation’s ability to manage through the pandemic and recover. 

Museums are essential for educating our children, preserving our history, and maintaining strong local economies. The COVID-19 pandemic has levied tremendous financial pressure on the country’s museums, and it is critical that Congress direct substantial additional federal relief for these institutions to weather this crisis and remain community bedrocks for years to come.

Thank you for your consideration.