The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) includes a lot of interesting pockets of funding that are easy to miss due to the breadth of the Act. The Act quietly allocates significant funding to public libraries, which have been hit hard during the pandemic.
The ARPA first allocates $200 million to the Institute of Museum and Library Services. This is an independent federal agency that provides grant funding for libraries and museums. $178 million of the $200 million will be distributed through the states to libraries. Each state is guaranteed to get at least $2 million, with the rest distributed based upon population. This is by far the largest federal grant ever made directly for libraries.
Libraries are also eligible to apply to the $7.172 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund that the ARPA is funding through the FCC’s E-Rate program. This program can be used to compensate for hotspots, modems, routers, laptops, and other devices that can be lent to students and library patrons to provide broadband.
The ARPA also includes $360 billion in funding that will go 60% to states and 40% directly to local governments and tribal governments. Among other things, this funding is aimed at offsetting cuts made during the pandemic to public health, safety, education, and library programs.
There is another $130 billion aimed at offsetting the costs associated with reopening K-12 schools to be used for hiring staff, reducing class sizes, and addressing student needs. The funds can also be invested in technology support for distance learning, including 20% that can be used to address learning loss during the pandemic. This funding will flow through the Department of Education based upon Title I funding that supports schools based upon the level of poverty.
Another $135 million will be flowed through the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities to support state and regional arts and humanities agencies. At least 60% of this funding is designated for grants to libraries.
There is also tangential funding that could support libraries. This includes $39 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants and Stabilization Fund plus $1 billion for Head Start that might involve partnerships with schools and libraries. There is also $9.1 billion to states and $21.9 billion for local programs for afterschool and summer programs to help students catch back up from what was a lost school year for many.
It’s good to see this funding flow to libraries. Many people may not understand the role that libraries play in many communities as the provider of broadband and technology for people that can’t afford home broadband. Libraries have struggled to maintain this role through the pandemic and the restrictions of not allowing patrons into libraries. Libraries in many communities have become the focal point for the distribution of broadband devices during the pandemic.
One of the lessons that the pandemic has taught us is that we need to connect everybody to broadband. As hard as the pandemic has been on everybody, it’s been particularly hard on those that couldn’t connect during the pandemic. This continues today as many states have established vaccine portals completely online.
Communities everywhere owe a big thanks to librarians for the work they’ve done in the last year to keep our communities connected. When you get a chance, give an elbow bump to your local librarian.