by Joni Lupovitz, Senior Director, Public Policy, NPR

We’re off to a banner start in the 117th Congress! This Update highlights the just-enacted COVID relief bill, which includes emergency funding for public media, additional funds for a vaccine public awareness campaign, and a fix so PPP recipients may also apply for a shuttered venue grant. A link to SBA’s recently updated PPP FAQs is below as well. Also this week: the bipartisan Journalism Competition and Preservation Act was reintroduced with modifications to include public radio news organizations. We wrap up with a rundown of key committee leaders in the new Congress.

President Signs COVID Relief Package with $175 Million and Other Relief for Public Media:  In a big win for public radio and the entire public media system, yesterday Congress approved and today President Biden signed into law the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, including $175 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. These funds are provided “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, including for fiscal stabilization grants… to maintain programming and services and preserve small and rural stations threatened by declines in non-Federal revenues.” CPB will determine distribution of the funds and provide more information in the days ahead.

We’re grateful for broad congressional and public support for this measure. Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) was instrumental in adding this provision to the Senate substitute budget reconciliation package, with the solid support of several other congressional leaders. We worked closely with CPB, PBS, APTS and others in the public media system to ensure our financial challenges were documented and understood. We mobilized stations and Protect My Public Media grassroots advocates across the country to urge Congress to support emergency funding for public media. The vital local programming and community service of public radio and TV stations throughout the pandemic was the lynchpin in securing additional relief for public media.

Also of interest to public radio, the new law provides:

  • $1 billion for “vaccine confidence” activities, including boosting a public awareness campaign that could provide opportunities for public radio stations to pursue or accept underwriting support. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will award competitive grants or contracts to increase knowledge of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and to combat misinformation, including the use of radio, TV, the internet and other media, with the goal of improving vaccination rates, particularly in underserved communities.
  • PPP loans will no longer cancel eligibility for “shuttered venue” grants: Eligible applicants will be able to access both the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program (SVOG). This is welcome news for university licensees and others who had been trying to decide whether to apply for either a PPP loan or a grant for their performance venues and museums. With the new fix, 2021 PPP recipients would deduct the value of their PPP loan from the SVOG maximum grant amount. Interested stations should review this provision carefully.

SBA Issues Updated Paycheck Protection Program FAQs:  Last week the SBA posted updated PPP FAQs to conform to the Economic Aid Act enacted in late December 2020. Among other guidance, stations may be interested in new Question 65 regarding PPP recipients’ eligibility for the Employee Retention Credit. As previously reported, Question 56 (added in late January) addresses the eligibility of university-licensed stations.

Bipartisan Journalism Competition & Preservation Act Reintroduced, Includes Public RadioIn a show of support to “save local news” and protect journalism and a free, diverse press, yesterday a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers reintroduced a bill to establish a limited 4-year antitrust safe harbor for news organizations to collectively negotiate with digital platforms regarding the terms on which their news content may be distributed online. The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), S.673/H.R.1735, is sponsored by House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) and Ranking Member Ken Buck (R-CO), Senate Judiciary Competition Policy Subcommittee Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator John Kennedy (R-LA), and other bipartisan co-sponsors in both chambers.

At our request, the sponsors modified the legislation to clarify that noncommercial public radio news organizations and content are covered. If enacted, this could allow NPR and local/Member stations, as well as public radio organizations and other news content creators, to collectively bargain with large digital platform companies. The House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee will hold a hearing tomorrow to examine proposals to ensure the survival of trustworthy sources of news online and help news outlets compete in the digital marketplace.

Congressional Committee Members Announced for the 117th Congress:  With recent changes in House and Senate Members, control of the Senate, and committee rules, the committee rosters finally seem settled for this Congress. Please take a quick scan below for your congressional representatives among the leadership of important committees for public radio:

  • Appropriations Committees:  In the Senate, key appropriations leaders have remained, but switched titles with the change in control.  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is now Chair and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) is Vice Chair of the full Committee. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is now Chair and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is the Ranking Republican of the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, which has primary responsibility over public broadcasting’s annual federal funding. This continuity is good news (although both GOP appropriations leaders announced they won’t seek reelection in 2022).

In the House, Chair Rosa DeLaura (D-CT) took the helm of the full Appropriations Committee (former Chair Nita Lowey retired), and continues to chair the “Labor-H” Subcommittee. Rep. Kay Granger (TX) remains as Ranking Member of the full Committee, and Rep. Tom Cole (OK) continues as RM of the Labor-H Subcommittee. Again, this continuity bodes well for public media.

  • Commerce Committees: With local news media, digital technology, and telecommunications issues high on Congress’s agenda, we’re watching the leadership changes on these committees. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) took over as Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) was recently named to chair the Communications Subcommittee. Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and John Thune (R-SD) remain as GOP leaders, now Ranking Members of the full Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee, respectively.

House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) remain in their leadership roles. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) was selected as Ranking Member of the full Committee (former RM Greg Walden retired), and Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) is RM of the Communications Subcommittee.

  • Judiciary Committees: With jurisdiction over copyright, music licensing, and competition policy, the judiciary committees are also significant. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) takes over as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) now Ranking Member.  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will chair the Intellectual Property Subcommittee, with Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) now Ranking Republican. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) became Chair of the Competition Policy Subcommittee, with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) the Ranking Member.  Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) will chair a new Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology & the Law, with Ranking Member Ben Sasse (R-NE).

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) remains in the top slot, with a new Vice Chair, Madeleine Dean (D-PA). Intellectual Property Subcommittee Chair Hank Johnson (D-GA) also remains, with new Vice Chair Mondaire Jones (D-NY), and Antitrust Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-RI) remains, with new Vice Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).  GOP Ranking Members include: Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) for the full House Judiciary Committee, Darryl Issa (R-CA) on the IP Subcommittee, and Ken Buck (R-CO) on the Antitrust Subcommittee.