What the HEROES Act Would Mean for Libraries

On Friday, the House of Representatives voted 208 to 199 for a $3 trillion aid package called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. It includes proposals for new stimulus payments to individuals, hazard pay for first responders, rent and mortgage assistance, and more. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) has said that the Senate would begin talks about the HEROES Act after the Memorial Day recess.

dome of the U.S. Capitol buildingOn Friday, the House of Representatives voted 208 to 199 for a $3 trillion aid package called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. It includes proposals for new stimulus payments to individuals, hazard pay for first responders, rent and mortgage assistance, and more. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) has said that the Senate would begin talks about the HEROES Act after the Memorial Day recess.

The HEROES Act mentions libraries in two broad categories:

  1. $1.5 billion for the "Emergency Connectivity Fund," which includes funding for schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots and other telecommunications equipment and information services, including modems, routers, and connected devices.
  2. $5 million dedicated to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), supplementing the $50 million already allocated to IMLS by the CARES Act, "to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, including grants to States, territories, tribes, museums, and libraries, to expand digital network access, purchase internet accessible devices, provide technical support services, and for operational expenses."

Both pools of funding would remain available until September 30, 2021, and focus on supporting library efforts to close the digital divide. It is not yet clear how the $1.5 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund would be distributed between schools and libraries.

In addition to funds in the HEROES Act explicitly allocated for libraries, many libraries may be eligible to receive HEROES Act funding allocated to local governments to decide on how to spend.  "Don't forget that local governments will receive block grants from the HEROES Act on top of similarly flexible funding already distributed by the CARES Act," says John Chrastka, the Executive Director of EveryLibrary. "While continuing to advocate for increased funding for libraries at the federal level, we also have to advocate at the state and local level to be in the block grant allocations."

The HEROES Act also includes new regulations protecting workers safety that might affect if, how, and when public libraries offer in-person services. The HEROES Act would set national standards for workplace safety, requiring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop and issue a temporary final standard (TFS) to protect employees from workplace exposure to the virus.

The HEROES Act would also provide direct support for individuals and families through the creation of the Emergency Benefit for Broadband Service, which would provide a $50 benefit (or $75 on tribal lands) to spend on Internet service for households in which a member has been laid off or furloughed, among other digital inclusion services that may directly support library patrons. Libraries may also find new ways to collaborate with K-12 school districts that would receive $58 billion, and public colleges and universities that would receive around $42 billion.

According to Angela Siefer, the Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, IMLS would require "at least $500 million" in this initiative "to promote meaningful short-term digital inclusion measures." The $5 million allocated to IMLS in the HEROES Act adds just 1% of the $500 million in funding recommended by Siefer, and only 0.25% of the $2 billion that the ALA requested for libraries in a May 13th letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The act, first introduced last Tuesday, has been called "dead upon arrival" by the White House and Senate Republicans. It is likely to be just the beginning of longer negotiations. Vigilant advocacy may be necessary to ensure that the funding for libraries is not reduced or eliminated in a final bill.

"This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for library advocacy," says Kathi Kromer, Associate Executive Director, ALA Public Policy & Advocacy. "We must position libraries as partners in recovery efforts, and the road to recovery is going to be a long haul. Whatever happens in future federal relief packages, ALA will urge decision makers to adopt explicit language to ensure libraries will be eligible for and included in emergency funding. There’s one message we need to repeat to elected officials at every level: libraries are poised to help communities recover, but we need resources to do it."

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