'If we don't get this money, we might not have a library system next year,' said a union president.
Congressional Republicans are railing against a relatively small line item in President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic relief legislation that would help libraries, demanding the $200 million be cut from a bill that they oppose anyway.
"President @JoeBiden asked what we would have him cut from the Democrats' $1.9 TRILLION covid "relief' bill," tweeted Rep. Brian Mast of Florida on Wednesday, suggesting "The $200 MILLION for the Institute of Museum and Library Services," among other items.
"$200M for the Institute of Museum and Library Services?" tweeted New Mexico Rep. Yvette Herrell. "CUT. CUT. CUT."
Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn complained that the "Democrats' 'COVID relief' wishlist" included $335 million for "Arts, Museums, and Library Services."
A Monday tweet from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy derided the "$200,000,000" appropriation as part of a "liberal handout."
A Tuesday tweet from the Senate Republican conference ridiculed the "$200 million for museums and libraries" in the "so-called 'American Rescue Plan.'"
The line item would provide the funds for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent federal agency that provides grants and support, to carry out the Library Services and Technology Act. That program provides financial backing to state, local, school, research, and other libraries around the country.
Many state and local governments have been struggling financially during the coronavirus pandemic due to declining revenues and increasing public health costs. Public libraries, often among the first things governments cut in tough times, have seen significant budget cuts.
In a May 2020 interview about the need for federal relief funds, Ashley Sims, president of AFSCME Local 3425 representing hundreds of Louisville, Kentucky, public library workers, told the American Independent Foundation that she worried a budget shortfall could imperil the system.
"Looking at what Louisville is facing, I don't think it's really hyperbole to say 'If we don't get this money, we might not have a library system next year, or one that looks anything like what it did last year,'" she observed. "Our mayor is unfortunately looking at cutting services like EMT and fire. I know when they're cutting firefighters and EMTs, there is no library system."
Republicans are wrong to suggest that library funding is unrelated to curbing the pandemic.
In addition to relying on libraries as community centers for access to books, research databases, free internet access, and a warm place to sit, many Americans have used libraries in recent weeks to sign up for coronavirus vaccine appointments.
Many libraries have given space to vaccination sites in their facilities.
A 2015 survey found that 46% of Americans aged 16 and older had visited a public library or bookmobile at least once in the previous year.
The congressional GOP also attacked the legislation for providing emergency relief for workers in the arts and humanities, communities hit especially hard by the pandemic. They dismissed these funding as earmarked for "miscellaneous projects unrelated to COVID."
Republican lawmakers have so far been unanimous in their opposition to the relief bill, despite polls showing massive public support for it.
A Politico/Morning Consult poll this week found 76% of voters back the $1.9 trillion package — including 60% of Republicans.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.