American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 Includes Billions for IMLS, Higher Ed, E-Rate

In a significant show of support, Congress earmarked billions of dollars in recovery funding for academic, public, and school libraries on Wednesday, March 10, as part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) received $200 million, the largest single boost in the agency’s 25-year history. The relief package also includes money for library-eligible programs such as the Emergency Education Connectivity Fund through the FCC’s E-rate program.

Capitol Building exteriorIn a significant show of support, Congress earmarked billions of dollars in recovery funding for academic, public, and school libraries on Wednesday, March 10, as part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) received $200 million, the largest single boost in the agency’s 25-year history. The relief package also includes money for library-eligible programs such as the Emergency Education Connectivity Fund through the FCC’s E-rate program.

“This is a historic win for libraries,“ American Library Association (ALA) President Julius C. Jefferson Jr. told LJ. “Every single library in every state will benefit. Plus—and this is huge—we have 7 billion–plus available for libraries and schools to purchase and distribute technology necessary for remote learning, working from home, virtual health care visits, and more.”

“The United States Congress and the President feel strongly about what we're doing, and are sending money to prove it,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper.

Of the $200 million for IMLS, $178 million is allocated for the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and will go to state library administrative agencies, calculated by a population-based formula, with a $2 million minimum per state. State libraries will distribute ARPA funding to local libraries according to state priorities. According to an ALA press release, these include:

  • offering greater access to technology, including through expanding digital networks and connectivity, purchasing hotspots, computers, and digital content
  • establishing mobile digital labs
  • enhancing workforce development and jobseeker programming
  • ensuring training and technical support for libraries, including assistance with the safe handling of materials.

Among other benefits, Jefferson noted in a press release, is that “in many cases, ARPA means libraries won’t have to choose between funding community programs and paying salaries of the professional staff who lead them.”

The additional $22 million will go toward IMLS overhead—staffing, research and development, the continuation of the REALM project, which tests library materials for the presence of the coronavirus—and community-based initiatives for both libraries and museums that address social issues. “There's an increasing focus in Congress and in the White House on equity and social well-being, and that will be a part of our guidelines for using this money,” Kemper told LJ. “We're going to look for places that need help, and try and fund museums and libraries that are directly engaged in helping their communities.“

Library tech needs will be addressed through $7.172 billion in Emergency Connectivity Fund money. Participating libraries will receive full reimbursement for the cost of hotspots and other Wi-Fi capable devices, modems, routers, laptops, tablets and similar devices to loan to patrons. ALA will provide input during the ensuing 60-day rulemaking process.

Another $40 billion is earmarked for higher education, both to offset costs to colleges and universities related to the pandemic and to provide emergency aid to students for expenses such as food, housing, and computer equipment. At least half of that is required to go to emergency student financial aid, and under ARPA all future student loan forgiveness is tax-free.

Costs associated with the safe reopening of K–12 schools, hiring additional staff, reducing class size, modifying school spaces, and addressing student, academic, and mental health needs, will receive $130 billion in funding. Also included will be technology investment and distance learning support, with at least 20 percent to be used to address learning loss. The Department of Education will distribute funds to states based on their Title I funding.

The package also provides more than $360 billion in emergency assistance to state, local, and tribal community governments, intended to offset cuts to public health, safety, education, and library programs. Approximately 60 percent of that money will go to states, with 40 percent going to local and tribal governments.

In addition, the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities will receive $135 million each, with 60 percent of those funds designated for direct grants that libraries can apply for. Child Care and Development Block Grants and Stabilization Fund will receive $39 billion and Head Start programs $1 billion, both of which present strong partnership opportunities for libraries.

The bill was signed into law by President Biden on Thursday, March 11.



Over the past four years, the Trump administration’s preliminary budget consistently threatened to zero out funding for IMLS. But thanks largely to strong advocacy from libraries and their supporters, IMLS funding has increased since 2013. Jefferson gave major credit to behind-the-scenes work by ALA's Public Policy and Advocacy staff in Washington, as well as a nationwide grassroots effort.

When Congress passed the previous COVID Relief spending package in December 2020, the $2 billion Library Stabilization Fund Act (LSFA), introduced by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI), was not included in the federal spending package. Still, the work that led up to the bill’s creation and introduction was not in vain. “We were able to tell the stories of libraries in our local communities and our states, and I think that has made a big difference,” said Jefferson. “We are really seeing the fruits of our labor over the past four years. This didn't just happen during COVID. The seeds were planted, and now we're seeing the results of it.” Another product of that advocacy, the Build America’s Libraries Act—introduced on January 28 in the Senate by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), along with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), as well as on March 3 in the House by Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI-9) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK At-Large District)—proposes to fund upgrades to the nation's library infrastructure to address challenges such as natural disasters, COVID-19, broadband capacity, environmental hazards, and accessibility barriers.

Kemper feels that attention to digital connectivity, in particular, has been growing steadily during that time, and that ARPA demonstrates an increased understanding of what the “digital divide” means in action. “For a long time, those of us who were interested in this have been struggling to get the policymakers around the country, not just in the federal government, to understand the internet and broadband as a utility,” he told LJ. “I think we're there on that. Now there's a second educational program that we need to get through that gets policymakers and our underserved populations, challenged populations, inner-city and rural populations, to understand and develop skills to use it in all these areas in which it's so important: telehealth, education, job skill development, job finding, and ultimately information, community virtual gathering, community development. That's the next step.”

In the coming months, ALA plans to help identify ways that libraries of all kinds can access ARPA relief, and provide guidance for applying for funding through various channels. “The work doesn't end here for us,” said Jefferson. “The reality of the work is just beginning, because now we have to make sure that these funds trickle down to the communities that need them most.”

“We are thrilled to see the $200 million in funding through IMLS for state libraries and the expansion for territory and tribal libraries, too,” EveryLibrary Executive Director John Chrastka told School Library Journal. “I have a lot of trust that State Librarians will look at their LSTA priorities and the COVID-mitigation mandate in the ARP to ensure that smart projects are supported for maximum impact. I also see this increase in funding as a kind of downpayment on the ‘Dollar per Capita’ request that COSLA has had for the last several years. Showing Congress how effective libraries can be in putting this funding to work will be essential to growing the annual appropriations in less troubled times.“

“The funding made available through ARPA will be key to further resiliency and recovery in communities across the United States,” said Timothy Cherubini, Executive Director of COSLA, in a statement. “State Libraries diligently put previous funding from the 2020 CARES Act to use quickly and effectively. Their knowledge and experience will prove beneficial in deploying ARPA funds when, where, and how they are most needed.“

“This is really a tremendous salute, in a trying time, to the importance of cultural organizations in this country,” said Kemper. “Libraries are the great community institutions in our country, the great trusted institutions, and this is a big, big salute to that.“

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Executive Editor for Library Journal.

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