States and Municipalities Need Federal Aid Now

The fate of public libraries, school libraries, and college and university libraries is inextricably tied to the financial stability of state and municipal funding. The revenue forecasts are grave for towns, cities, counties, school districts, and states, but there is a chance to blunt the worst effects for libraries and the communities and campuses they serve - but only if we understand how funding really works. 

With Congress unable to advance a comprehensive plan for new Coronovirus-related relief and the forecasts for state and local tax revenue in real distress, it is should be very clear to library advocates and leaders that we need to focus on the entire ecosystem of funding in order to support all types of libraries. 

Unlike the federal government, state and local governments must begin their fiscal years on time and with a balanced budget. The first round of COVID-related bills like the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act were disaster response bills. They temporarily restructured areas like unemployment insurance and family leave along with making significant infusions of cash into existing programs to shore up the business sector and non-profit organizations. Schools, healthcare, childcare, and emergency services all received significant financial supports to respond to the crisis through grant programs. Libraries and museums were eligible in the CARES Act for competitive grants that focused specifically on digital equity projects. But none of those disaster response bills helped with the coming funding crisis for state and local governments - including public, academic, and school libraries. 


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As we begin fiscal 2020-2021 in 45 states, the fiscal outlook for municipal and state revenues are dire. The National Association of State Budget Officers is projecting as much as a 20% drop in tax revenue. By contrast, the historic peak revenue lost during the Great Recession was 11.6%. The Urban Institute reports that May 2020 tax revenues were off dramatically across all categories (opens PDF): "Personal income taxes declined 10.6 percent, sales taxes declined 27.8 percent, and corporate income taxes declined 50.7 percent" year to year. COVID shutdowns have created an unprecedented and potentially catastrophic situation for government services and school funding as well as the families, businesses, and organizations that rely on them. From infrastructure to health and safety to education, without relief from Congress and the President, states and municipalities must go beyond eliminating discretionary programs to make drastic cuts to essential services. Public libraries, school libraries, and academic libraries and the workforce will be dramatically and negatively impacted in this crisis. 

As the National Governors Association and a coalition of national, state, and local governmental organizations notes, the CARES Act and supplemental bills used "well-established grant programs" to allocate disaster response funding. "[Y]et none [of the grant programs] allow for the replacement of billions of lost revenue due to COVID-19. More robust and direct stimulus is needed for state and local governments to both rebuild the economy and maintain essential services in education, health care, emergency operations, public safety and more." Standard & Poors forecasts that the impact of these revenue shortfalls is yet to be felt by governments. “More than a decade removed from the Great Recession, states are relatively well positioned to absorb the initial COVID-19 outbreak shock to their economies, which began in earnest--albeit unevenly--in the middle of March [2020]," says S&P Global. "Beyond the initial shock, the rippling effects have escalated quickly and now all state and local governments are actively deploying resources to curb the human toll on their communities.”

The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicates that state and local government should expect a revenue shortfall as large as $615 billion "based on the historical relationship between unemployment and state revenues" through FY 2022. "Revised Treasury Department guidance indicates that states can use some of the aid provided in the CARES Act to cover payroll costs ... but even adding that to other existing federal aid likely won’t cover much more than $100 billion of the state shortfalls, leaving nearly $515 billion unaddressed." To date, over 1.6 million jobs have been lost out of a local and state government workforce of 15 million. The Economic Policy Institute notes that more jobs were lost in K-12 education in April 2020 than in the entire Great Recession. The financial crisis for government and education will be massive unless action is taken by Congress now. 

It is very important to recognize that revenue shortfalls will be affecting K-12 education funding in a similar measure to municipalities. In early May, Ed Week sounded the alarm that "[a]lmost half of the nation’s 13,000 school districts may be forced to make the deepest cuts to education spending in a generation—slashing programs and laying off hundreds of thousands of administrators, teachers and other staff—to fend off financial collapse brought on by the coronavirus." For school librarians, the jobs situation was already dire. Heading into the Coronavirus disruptions, 19% of school librarian jobs had been eliminated since 2000.  While the CARES Act included significant funding for school districts and state education agencies to address the pivot to distance and blended education, as Ed Week notes, nothing in the Act provided specific relief or support to school library programs or school librarian positions. We have already seen targeted cuts to school librarians in districts in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California (see our site for several district-level campaigns). School boards and school districts can only raise so much new revenue from local property taxes.  


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Academic library programs are facing massive disruptions in their ability to serve their students, faculty, and researchers. Inside Higher Ed marks several key changes including the use of library spaces during social distancing, the costs of digitization and expanded licenses, the ability of staff to work remotely, and notes broadly that "[a]s colleges struggle to maintain enrollment and reduce expenses, libraries will confront budget reductions, hiring freezes and other spending restrictions." The Chronicle of Higher Education is tracking 224 colleges and universities that have implemented over 50,000 layoffs or furloughs across their campuses to date. Community colleges, public colleges and universities, and private institutions are impacted by declines in enrollment and reductions in their aid formula. 

Public libraries have already begun to implement staff reductions in response to shifts in service delivery. According to data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services' 2017 Public Libraries Survey, the public library workforce was 142,000 FTE (this is an increase from 2010 when 139,000 FTE were reported). Hard numbers on unemployment from the Department of Labor are difficult to tease out on a contemporaneous basis, but the crowd-sourced "Tracking Library Layoffs" effort shows furloughs and layoffs in 37 states. The HALO Fund project from our companion organization the EveryLibrary Institute has received nearly 500 individual applications for support from affected library workers (public, academic, and school-based) through July 1, 2020. Our colleagues managing mutual aid and relief programs for the Society of American Archivists and museum professionals are likewise fielding numerous requests for assistance.

Public libraries are not only local employers but they also purchase goods and services that impact the local GDP. The IMLS PLS 2017 data shows that public libraries are a $13.1 billion industry. Roughly $2.6 billion is expended by independent library districts and $1.2 billion is through independently governed non-profit associations. About $1.1 billion is spent by Tribal government, school district-governed public libraries, multi-jurisdictional libraries, and "other" governance models. The remaining $8.2 billion is spent by libraries that are part of municipalities and counties /parishes. There are tremendous vulnerabilities to public libraries when they are part of local government. The fabric and future of public education is threatened when state and local government revenue is so dramatically diminished. 

As the NGA notes, "Previous federal bills responding to COVID-19 provided important support, many through well-established grant programs, yet none allow for the replacement of billions of lost revenue due to COVID-19." For public libraries, school libraries, and academic libraries, the recent HEROS Act introduced in the House should also be telling about where we need to place our advocacy attention. In a $3 trillion dollar bill, only $5 million was directly allocated to libraries for digital inclusion projects. No direct funding is envisioned by Congress to support library operations or to rescue library budgets. Likewise, the recently introduced Moving America Forward Act of 2020 stimulus bill does not have any infrastructure monies dedicated to rebuilding, remodeling, or improving our nation's libraries or archives facilities. While there is a willingness in Congress to use existing grant programs like IMLS and E-rate for digital inclusion funding, there does not seem to be an interest in creating a new grant program to directly aid library budgets. As we discussed in April 2020, fiscal austerity would be a catastrophe for all types of libraries. 

Robust and direct stimulus funding is needed from the federal government for state and local governments to both rebuild the economy and maintain essential services in education, health care, emergency operations, and libraries. EveryLibrary joins dozens of national organizations in calling on Congress and the Administration to provide flexible fiscal aid to states and municipalities to backfill the revenue losses from the COVID shutdowns.  Many economists agree that the recession of the 2010s was significantly worse and much longer than it needed to be because of a policy choice by Congress to curtail spending, enforce sequestration, and impose austerity measures instead of new revenue. For the sake of our libraries and their communities and campuses, the federal government must step up to ensure that states and municipalities won't fail in this current crisis. 

Updated: December 4, 2020