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Last updated April 15, 2020

The coronavirus crisis has had a profound impact on the literary community and the economy of books and publishing. In Washington, two major relief laws have been enacted–the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act–that have the potential to help writers, small bookstores, publishers, literary organizations, and others in our sector get through the economic crisis. We at PEN America have assembled this resource guide explaining some of the programs in these bills that might sustain our Members and others in the literary community as we work through these difficult times.

Note: None of this guidance should be construed as legal advice.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) have each been allocated $75 million to provide emergency grants and support for arts organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 40 percent of these funds will be transferred to state arts agencies for disbursement at their discretion. The NEA has released the details of their national grant programs here and information for current awardees in this statement. Additional updates will be posted on their website. 

The Small Business Association (SBA) may offer relief for small bookstores, media organizations (both for-profit and nonprofit), and publishers. Organizations should inquire with their lenders about their eligibility for the following programs, as the CARES Act has expanded the number of banks authorized to manage SBA-guaranteed loans. For more details on the eligibility requirements of these programs, please see this table prepared by the National Council of Nonprofits.

Here are two key programs that might provide financial lifelines to those in the literary community:

  • The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) are available to small businesses in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The CARES Act allocated an additional $562 million to ensure that the SBA has the resources to provide these loans. For more information, visit the SBA’s EIDL website.
  • The CARES Act also added $350 billion to the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program. The program will guarantee loans of up to $10 million with a maximum term of 10 years and interest rates of up to 4 percent for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Some businesses will be eligible for loan forgiveness should they maintain their payroll for eight weeks at normal salary levels. To learn about details of eligibility and procurement, please visit this page by the Federal Register or this FAQ published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to direct financial assistance, the two bills passed by Congress also augment existing support mechanisms, including unemployment insurance, sick leave, and family medical leave.

Unemployment Insurance. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act appropriated $1 billion to be distributed to states for unemployment benefits. It includes a provision that expands eligibility for freelancers and workers in the gig economy. However, each state has its own procedures and requirements, so qualifications and amounts will vary. For more information on unemployment benefits and application processes for members of the arts community, please see this flow chart prepared by the Arts, Entertainment, and Media Industry Coordinating Committee at the AFL-CIO.

Sick Leave and Family Medical Leave. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires small businesses (classified as employers with under 500 employees) to provide expanded sick and family medical leave for COVID-19 related illnesses, as well as allowing for additional leave time for parents due to school closures. For information on requirements for paid leave, please see this page from the U.S. Department of Labor. For information on the implementation of paid leave protocols, please see this FAQ from the U.S. Department of Labor.

While it may not provide support immediately, the CARES Act also granted $1.5 billion to the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help revitalize locally-identified economic priorities and impacted industries after the pandemic has subsided. In previous funding packages, the EDA was also granted $20 billion in local and private investments to support over 100,000 American jobs impacted by the coronavirus. Local news outlets, bookstores, and publishers may qualify as “impacted industries” depending on their local economic footprint and the priority of their legislators in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

Finally, if you or someone you know is a writer in acute financial need, we encourage you to apply for the PEN America Writers’ Emergency Fund.