Emergency Small Business Loans are Leaving Out Local Media Outlets
Countless small businesses are facing tough decisions as the Coronavirus pandemic stretches on. In an attempt to help struggling businesses that have been hit hard by social distancing measures, lawmakers launched the so-called Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) on April 3. But unclear terms and other glitches are making it hard for businesses to cash in a loan through the $349 billion stimulus, and cover payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities; some are even completely left out.
COVID-19 is having a dire impact not only on restaurants and hotels, but on small media outlets. A family-owned radio broadcaster, Gleason Radio Group, which has been serving rural Mainers for over 45 years, was forced to shut down its five stations completely at the end of March. Thousands of other local newspapers and local broadcast media outlets are expecting declines of over 50% in revenue, with many being forced to consider layoffs, furloughs, or pay cuts.
Despite providing critical news and information to communities, local newspapers, radio stations, and television broadcasters don’t seem to fit the PPP eligibility criteria.
The problem? Many local media outlets are part of larger entities that would do not fall under the definition of a small business. Yet many hotels and restaurants that are part of large chains have been made eligible for the relief program as long as they have fewer than 500 employees per location.
The PPP is intended to help small employers weather the pandemic, but it should not discriminate between small businesses. Yet, it does.
Local radio and television broadcasters are key to the nation's COVID-19 response, as their goal is to inform communities to help keep people safe. Local media outlets provide answers to such important information as testing locations, hospital capacity, road closures, business hours of operation, and shelter-in-place orders.
For example, Gray Television’s CBS/CW, an affiliate of WKYT-TV in Lexington, Kentucky, has developed a nightly segment, “Breaking Down Coronavirus,” to highlight the effects on the community from varying perspectives, including the plight of the homeless population and how consumers can report businesses not following COVID-19 recommendations.
In Missouri, Zimmer Communications’ radio stations have shared more than 27 hours of press conferences and over 20,000 messages to keep local communities informed on the COVID-19 crisis. KCLR-FM, for example, aired information on open restaurants in support of local businesses in Boonville, Missouri.
As the nation feels the economic impact of this crisis, businesses are sharply curtailing their spending on broadcast ads, which means income is drying up. The ability for small broadcasters to stay on the air is increasingly uncertain.
Local media outlets are working tirelessly to get timely information to the public, but their ability to continue to serve communities is imperiled by the financial harm posed by the current crisis. Innumerable small businesses are impacted by the spread of the pandemic, and the local media outlets are no exception. As such, local media should have equal ability to seek relief under the PPP.
As Congress enacts additional COVID-19 relief measures, it should recognize the vital role of local news and provide support to these lifelines to information.
Krisztina Pusok and Steve Pociask are with the American Consumer Institute, an education and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.