The Senate formally adjourned for its August recess on Thursday without a second pandemic relief package. And with Congress now on break until after Labor Day, ALA officials are urging library supporters to keep the pressure on their Senators to strike a deal—and to ensure that deal includes support for the Library Stabilization Fund Act (LSFA), a bill that would earmark $2 billion for public libraries.
Introduced on July 2 by Rhode Island Democratic Senator Jack Reed and Michigan Democratic Congressman Andy Levin, the LSFA would authorize a minimum of $10 million in library funding going to each state based on population. At press time, the Senate version of the bill had 17 co-sponsors—all of them Democrats.
According to a report this week in the New York Times, Republicans and White House negotiators remain at odds with Democrats over direct support for the states—despite estimates that state budgets face a cumulative budget gap of at least $555 billion through the 2022 fiscal year, and economists warning that the “long-term financial damage” arising from the pandemic could exceed the Great Recession of 2007.
“At a time when budgets of local governments have been decimated, America can’t afford to dismiss a national infrastructure of 117,000 libraries nimble enough to offer relief and advance recovery," said American Library Association President Julius C. Jefferson Jr., in a recent statement, adding that the LSFA represents “the comprehensive federal response needed to keep our nation’s libraries safely in operation.”
The ALA website is currently offering resources for library supporters wishing to contact their senators and representatives to urge them to support the LSFA. Additional resources—including a one-page explainer on LSFA, sample social media posts, and a sample letter for state and local library associations and boards of trustees—are also available on the ALA site.
The August recess had been seen as a self-imposed deadline to strike a second coronavirus relief package. And with lawmakers leaving Washington this week without a deal, the pressure is now on. Business is not scheduled to resume in Washington until after Labor Day, and the parties remain at least $1 trillion apart, after the House passed its $3.4 trillion package, the HEROES Act, back in May.
The HEROES Act includes more than $900 billion for state and municipal aid, as well as $2 billion for hotspots and digital devices for library patrons and students. In public comments, however, President Trump has taken a partisan approach to the House bill, insisting he would not sign off on aid to bail out “poorly run” states.
In an interview with PW earlier this spring, sociologist Eric Klinenberg, author of the acclaimed 2018 book Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, warned that such an impasse was likely on the horizon.
“Let’s be clear, when you hear there is a debate in Congress about whether to ‘bail out’ states and cities, that is a debate about whether your local library stays open, or closes," Klinenberg told PW. "That’s about whether the park system stays open or closes. It’s about schools and teachers. And American voters are going to need to connect the dots, or we could soon find ourselves without many of the institutions that keep us stable.”
Meanwhile ALA is also supporting a slate of other more digital-focused bills that would benefit libraries, including the Accelerating Connected Care and Education Support Services on the Internet Act (ACCESS the Internet Act) a bipartisan bill introduced last week by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Cornyn (R-TX). Among its provisions, the $2 billion legislation would include a two-year, $200 million hotspot pilot program for libraries, to be administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
In a statement to PW, Kathi Kromer, ALA's Associate Executive Director for Public Policy and Advocacy, stressed the importance of the LSFA, which would directly support librarians.
"While ALA supports solutions to the digital gap that include libraries, we also know that access to broadband depends on the thousands of library staff who deliver service," Kromer said. "The LSFA would bridge the nation’s widening digital gap with support for the libraries—and library workers—who deliver the service.”