Federal Policy News and Updates: COVID Relief, Visa Fee Increases, FY21 Appropriations

By Laurie Baskin posted 08-21-2020 11:30

  • Partial Fix for Self-Insured Unemployment Costs Signed Into Law
    On August 3, the"Protecting Nonprofits from Catastrophic Cash Flow Strain Act" (S. 4209) was signed into law. This legislation is one of many requests that TCG and the larger nonprofit community had been urging Congress to pass, in order to ease the burden of unemployment compensation costs for self-insured nonprofits. While the CARES Act provided 50% reimbursement of costs, self-insured employers were required to pay 100% of the benefits costs upfront and receive 50% reimbursement later. On August 12, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a letter implementing the new rules that require states to only bill nonprofit organizations for 50% of liability. If your theatre self-insures, the National Council of Nonprofits advises that you contact your state administrator to request a new billing statement that charges only for the 50% liability. While eliminating the requirement for nonprofits to pay 100% upfront is a partial victory, TCG and nonprofit advocates continue to make the case for federal relief to cover 100 percent of costs in the next COVID-19 relief package.  

Steep Artist Visa Fee Increases and Policy Changes to Take Effect October 2, 2020

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has denied the requests outlined in detailed comments submitted by national nonprofit arts stakeholders in response to the DHS December proposal to impose very steep increases to some of its filing fees, including for O and P artist visas applications. DHS finalized its fee increases and policy changes, to take effect beginning October 2, 2020:

  • The filing fee for O petitions will increase by 53 percent from $460 to $705 per petition, utilizing a new Form I-129O
  • The filing fee for P petitions will increase by 51 percent from $460 to $695 per petition, utilizing a new Form I-129MISC
  • Beneficiaries will be capped at 25 people per petition
  • Premium Processing will lengthen to a window of fifteen federal working days rather than calendar days

For complete details, please see the news item on the Artists from Abroad website. When Forms I-129O and I-129MISC become available, Artists from Abroad will be updated with new templates and guidance. TCG continues to advocate for improved policies as outlined in the U.S. Performing Arts Sector Request for COVID-Related Flexibility from USCIS and Department of State.

U.S. House Recommends NEA and Arts Education Increases for FY21

Last month, the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives advanced all twelve of its funding bills for FY21, followed shortly by passage by the full House of a package containing nearly all of them. The recommendations included in the House-passed measure are: $170 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities (a $7.75M increase for each agency from the current year) and $31 million for Arts in Education programs at the U.S. Department of Education (a $1M increase from the current year). The House funding bill also calls for a $10M increase for Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) State Grants, which provides flexible resources to improve student access to a well-rounded education, and an advance appropriation recommendation of $515 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (a $50M increase). The appropriations bill includes accompanying language that calls for the NEA to report on "how NEA Performance goals improve the diversity of artistic representation and the steps taken to ensure that NEA staff, the National Council [on] the Arts, Discipline Directors, and Peer Panelists include members from minority and underserved communities." Senate subcommittees have yet to release FY21 bills.

Arts Education is Essential

TCG joined more than fifty national organizations issuing the statement, Arts Education Is Essential, which succinctly reminds school administrators and the public that -- especially in the context of COVID-19 -- arts education contributes to the social and emotional well-being of students, encourages student expression, and is essential to a well-rounded education for all students. These are among the highest priorities for schools, and the delivery of high-quality arts instruction is not only possible, but it is a necessary part of the school experience in-school and online. As public funding for education becomes increasingly imperiled amid the coronavirus pandemic, theatre education advocates should speak up in both short and longer-term budget discussions taking place at the local and state levels. Please note that National Arts in Education Week will be celebrated this year from September 13 through 19. This will be a great opportunity to join others in bringing visibility to the importance of theatre education, using the hashtags #AIEWeek and #artsed.

Continued Advocacy Needed! Next Federal Relief Package Nears Completion

Congress continues to consider a massive package of COVID-19 relief that may be completed in the coming days or weeks. The contents of the final bill will determine support available to the nonprofit arts sector, its workforce, and the communities it serves. Key decisions are being made right now to determine who will qualify for relief.

TCG has joined a unified national Arts and COVID-19 Statement to Congress, which was created through TCG’s partnership with more than 60 national arts organizations

Thank you to the many advocates who have taken a moment to speak up! Please continue to weigh in with your elected officials.