Cantwell, Boozman, Klobuchar, Ernst, Schumer Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Make Local Media Outlets Eligible for Federal COVID-19 Support

Funding would be required to be used to produce local news & emergency information and keep reporters on the job; no portion could be transferred to parent companies; At least 36,000 newsroom jobs have been impacted since the COVID-19 pandemic began; thousands more at risk

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, as local newspapers and local broadcasters continue to struggle with the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), John Boozman (R-AR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Local News and Emergency Information Act of 2020 to make thousands of small local newspapers, radio, and television broadcasters newly eligible for emergency federal support under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

“Local news outlets are reporting life-saving information about COVID-19 to communities throughout the country. We cannot afford to lose reporters from newsrooms, especially as they play such an important role in keeping the public informed and safe,” Senator Cantwell said.

"Arkansans rely on the quality coverage we receive from our local newspapers, television affiliates and radio stations to remain informed throughout this crisis. Local newsrooms are reporting important details residents need that are not included in national coverage. At a time when we need this communication more than ever, these outlets are suffering from a dramatic reduction in advertising revenue leading to decisions to downsize, furlough workers or close. Ensuring the viability of local news outlets is critical to maintaining access to information," Senator Boozman said.

“As Americans across the country look to their local and regional news sources for information in the midst of this pandemic, it’s more important than ever that we keep local news strong,” Senator Klobuchar said. “The free press is vital to our country and I am proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Cantwell to help ensure that local newspapers, radio stations, and broadcasters can keep their communities informed.”

“Local reporting has always been critical for our communities in Iowa, but that’s especially true today,” said Senator Ernst. “Our families, small businesses, and front line workers all depend on having the most up-to-date and reliable information available, and it’s our local newspapers, TV, and radio stations that deliver it. Local press, like other small businesses who are facing challenges amid this pandemic, should be able to benefit from the Paycheck Protection Program, and this bipartisan legislation will make that support available to them.”

“Local news outlets are the glue that keeps communities in Upstate New York and across the country informed and stitched together, and during these uncertain times, they are more vital than ever,” said Senator Schumer. “Each day, local newspapers, television and radio stations give millions of Americans up-to-date information on the pandemic; it’s local impact; and what they need to know to get through and begin to rebuild. That includes providing news reports on public health information and school and business closures that are specific to communities and serve an important role in fighting life-threatening misinformation about COVID-19. This legislation is so important because just like any other small business, access to this federal funding could be a vital lifeline for local news outlets that are losing major advertising revenue and suffering huge financial losses.”

The legislation makes local newspapers and local radio and TV stations eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program, established by Congress in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, as long as the individual physical location of the outlet that applies for funding meets SBA’s separate size standards – fewer than 1,000 employees for newspapers and less than $41.5 million in gross receipts for broadcasters. The funding would have to be used to produce local news, information, content, or emergency information, and to keep local reporters and those who support them on the job. To that end, the SBA could require the newspaper, radio, or TV station to demonstrate that the loan is necessary for this purpose. No portion of the loan could be paid or transferred to a parent company or used for other purposes. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on local media outlets around the country. In the last few months, local newspapers have lost as much as 50 percent of advertising revenue, and the National Association of Broadcasters found that some local broadcasters have reported as much as a 90 percent loss in advertising revenues. Nationwide, advertising losses for local TV and radio broadcasters are estimated to reach at least $3 billion. The crisis has also impacted at least 36,000 news jobs nationwide, with thousands more in jeopardy.

These losses have only increased the financial difficulties many local media outlets have been feeling for years. From 2005 to 2018, newspaper advertising revenue fell from $49 billion to $14 billion, while subscription revenue remained flat. During the same time period, at least 1,800 newspapers went out of business and roughly 28,000 newsroom jobs were lost nationwide.

Last month, Cantwell, Boozman, and Klobuchar sent a bipartisan letter urging Senate leadership to ensure that future legislation includes a fix to the SBA’s affiliation role to make thousands of local newspapers, TV, and radio stations around the country eligible for small business assistance under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

New COVID-19 funding legislation unveiled by the House of Representatives includes similar provisions to make local media outlets eligible for funding. The House effort was led by Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline (D, RI-01) and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R, WI-05).

The full text of the bill is available HERE.