Senate Approves Hundreds Of Billions More For Small Business Coronavirus Relief; Local Media Provisions Not Included

Photo by MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10619196d) US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell takes off a face mask to give brief remarks to members of the news media at the Senate carriage entrance on Capitol Hill.

The Senate on Tuesday approved hundreds of billions more in new relief to small businesses, injecting new money into a program that was quickly depleted after companies rushed to secure loans to keep their operations going.

The $484 billion legislation, approved by voice vote, also would provide new funding to hospitals and coronavirus testing.

The bill next goes to the House, which is expected to take it up on Thursday. It provides $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, in which small businesses can access loans that can be converted into grants if they maintain payrolls. The small business program that was included as part of the last relief package, the CARES Act, quickly ran through its initial $349 billion round of funding.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that after this latest legislation clears Congress, they will turn their attention to another major relief package. President Donald Trump has expressed support for such additional legislation, while Senate Majority Mitch McConnell was somewhat skeptical given the rising national debt.

While many entertainment and media businesses undoubtedly will pursue the PPP money, the legislation does not include a provision to specifically provide relief to a larger number of local media outlets including newspapers, radio and TV stations that have been hit hard from a plunge in advertising revenue.

A consortium of trade associations representing radio and TV broadcasters and news publishers, including the National Association of Broadcasters and the News Media Alliance, want a provision that is similar to what was specifically given to hotels and restaurants in the CARES Act, which passed late last month. That special provision makes larger chains eligible for the relief program if they have fewer than 500 employees per physical location of their businesses.

Last week, four lawmakers — Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) and Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) — sent a letter to Senate leaders in which they wrote that the last relief package “waived the affiliation rule for hotels and restaurants allowing them to benefit from small business assistance, and the same consideration should extend to local news outlets in light of their vital role in maintaining public health.”

“Even though these news outlets may be owned by larger groups, they operate independently,” they wrote.

A similar letter was sent to House leaders on Tuesday by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

“It doesn’t look like it got in this round, but there will be more rounds to follow,” David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, said in an email. “We are going to keep fighting for it, along with a new government advertising program.”

A group of more than 240 lawmakers sent a letter to Trump urging him to direct federal agencies to spend their advertising dollars — estimated between $5 billion and $10 billion — on local media.

The drop-off in advertising has been daunting, as sponsors like auto dealers, mattress stores and even lawyers have held off on their spending amid mass closures and layoffs.

Newspapers have seen their ad revenues drop by up to 50% in the last few months, according to the News Media Alliance, while the NAB reports that losses have been as much as 90% of ad sales.

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