IMLS Announces Swift Delivery of CARES Act Funding to COVID-19 Impacted Libraries

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced on April 13 that it would begin steps to distribute the first $30 million appropriated to the agency through the federal Coronavirus Aid Package, or CARES Act. The $2 trillion emergency funding legislation, which passed on March 27, included a $50 million package spearheaded by the Washington Office of the American Library Association (ALA) to help ensure that libraries could continue to provide workforce development, connectivity, and digital content during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, as well as to protect core library services in the face of future expected cuts and to help support library organizations.

IMLS logoThe Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced on April 13 that it would begin steps to distribute the first $30 million appropriated to the agency through the federal Coronavirus Aid Package, or CARES Act. The $2 trillion emergency funding legislation, which passed on March 27, included a $50 million package spearheaded by the Washington Office of the American Library Association (ALA) to help ensure that libraries could continue to provide workforce development, connectivity, and digital content during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, as well as to protect core library services in the face of future expected cuts and to help support library organizations.

The funding in this phase will be distributed to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories, and the Freely Associated States (the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau) based on population. Grants will be allocated through the State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAAs), whose mandate includes museum and tribal partners as well as libraries.

“This pandemic has highlighted the fact that people in rural and tribal communities, as well as those in high-poverty areas or remote regions lacking access to broadband, have been disproportionately affected,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper in a statement. “We must target these funds to provide job, health, economic, and other high-impact relief, and this funding round focuses on providing efficient, urgent help to citizens across the nation.”

Funds can be used to expand digital network access, purchase internet-accessible devices, and provide technical support services to address digital inclusion efforts and related technical support. Need will be prioritized based on data gathered from the Poverty/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), unemployment records, and broadband availability statistics.

This distribution will supplement previously announced measures to help support the needs of museums, libraries, their staff, and their communities, such as the new flexibilities for IMLS grants that the agency announced on April 6. Under these revised guidelines, institutions with open awards may now adapt their existing fund balances toward immediate needs, and extend the timelines for their work to accommodate the disruption caused by closings and slowdowns. Grant money can be put toward continuing to cover staff salaries, modifying projects to align with social distancing requirements, and covering basic costs to resume work once institutions reopen.

IMLS will provide additional details and timelines for the funding to SLAAs. The agency also plans to announce additional measures for museums and libraries, both through current funding and additional funding received through the CARES Act.

“The urgent expansion of broadband access and digital services enables people to connect to the health, community, government, and job information so critical today, and to the other programs and services that play an enhanced role in the current health emergency,” said Kemper. “While we are distributing these funds through [SLAAs], we urge museums and related organizations to partner with libraries in this vital endeavor.”

ALA president Wanda Brown praised IMLS’s quick turnaround in delivering the CARES Act funding to libraries. “These funds, which focus on digital inclusion, will boost libraries’ continued efforts to prepare for and respond to a vast array of community needs as a result of the coronavirus,” Brown said in a statement, “especially for those who rely on libraries for an internet connection to access unemployment benefits, distance learning, and other critical areas of relief.”

On the heels of the CARES Act passage, Congress has started work on a new COVID-19 relief package. Reps. Andy Levin (D-MI), Don Young (R-AK), and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) are circulating a Dear Colleague letter calling for $2 billion in emergency funding for libraries to be administered by IMLS through the Library Services and Technology Act grants to states program. ALA has issued an advocacy alert targeting the House, with another for the Senate due later this week, and urges library workers and supporters to email their representative and ask them to sign on.

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor, News for Library Journal.

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