Two weeks ago, Congress passed the historic CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act), a $2 trillion relief measure designed to provide resources and supports in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic confronting the United States and the world.

Touching virtually every segment of the US economy, the CARES Act provides three main opportunities for artists and arts organizations – the Paycheck Protection Program through the US Small Business Administration (SBA); an increase in unemployment benefits that includes greater eligibility for self-employed and contract workers; and grant funds administered by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

What It Is:

The CARES Act creates a forgivable loan program sponsored by the SBA.  The program is open to:

  • any small business that meets SBA’s size standards,
  • any business, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, 501(c)(19) veterans organization, or Tribal business concern with less than 500 employees.
  • any business with a NAICS Code that begins with 72 (Accommodations and Food Services) that has more than one physical location and employs less than 500 per location,
  • As of, April 10, 2020, sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed persons are also eligible to apply.

Loans are made by banks and other community lenders and are designed to provide an incentive to keep employees on the payroll.  Under the program, SBA will forgive loans, provided all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the funds are used to meet payroll costs, rent, mortgage interest or utility costs.  Due to the overwhelming number of applications for this program, Congress is currently considering $250 billion in additional support for the Paycheck Protection Program.

Houston Arts Alliance has put together an FAQ and collected resources to help arts organizations better under the SBA process.  It is available at

For more information from SBA including additional supports available at this time, check out:

What To Do:

Organizations should apply through any existing SBA lenders or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. First, Organizations should consult with their current banking institution as to whether it is participating in the program, or use this list to identify an approved lender.

The SBA posted a sample application for seeking a PPP loan, along with instructions for completing and submitting the application. Given that loans will be given on a first come, first served basis until the funds are spent, it is important that organizations move quickly to have the application and required documentation in place. The SBA has significantly simplified the process and estimates that the application, including gathering of information, will take less than 10 minutes to complete.

Unemployment Insurance Benefits

What It Is:

The CARES Act created three new unemployment insurance programs that are fully funded by the Federal Government.  The new programs are:

  • A $600 boost in weekly unemployment compensation,
  • extended unemployment compensation for 13 weeks after an individual exhausts regular state unemployment compensation,
  • and unemployment compensation for the first week of unemployment in states that have a statutory one- week waiting period and waive it.

Importantly, the CARES Act also provides emergency unemployment assistance to people who have exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits and to self-employed individuals.

In addition, States may not charge employers for the additional unemployment benefits so as not to impact an employer’s experience rating and future UI tax rate. Many, but not all, states have also taken steps to ensure that all coronavirus-related UI claims will not be charged to an employer’s experience rating, or to spread out that experience over the employer pool such that employers are not incentivized to discourage employees from applying for UI.

What To Do:

As each state administers unemployment insurance benefits through state-specific guidelines, applicants should consult the appropriate agency in their state to determine eligibility, payment amounts and procedures to apply for benefits.  A list of state unemployment agencies is available here:

NEA Grants to Non-Profit Arts Organizations

What It Is:

The NEA will provide funds to nonprofit arts organizations across the country to help endure the economic hardships caused by the forced closure of their operations due to the spread of COVID-19.

With many arts organizations facing severe economic hardship as a result of the pandemic, the NEA’s goal is to grant funds as quickly as possible.  Because of this, the NEA has restricted its grant applications to past NEA awardees in order to ensure that eligible organizations:

  • Provide a rational and manageable pool of potential applicants, which is important for a program that has to be implemented rapidly.
  • Have been vetted through the Arts Endowment’s rigorous review system by panels of experts in the field, the National Council on the Arts, and the Arts Endowment Chairman.
  • Due to that process, represent a diverse pool of applicants capable of carrying out projects that meet the Congressionally mandated criteria of artistic excellence and merit.
  • Represent all arts disciplines and fields, organizational sizes, and wide geographic reach.

Limited to one application per organization, the grant program is intended to help save jobs in the arts sector and keep the doors open to the thousands of organizations that add value to America’s economy and the creative life of our communities.  Eligible entities are organizations that:

  • Have received an Arts Endowment award within the past four years (beginning with awards that were made in FY 2017 as indicated by an award letter that is dated on or after October 1, 2016, and an award number that begins with “17 – “). When using FY 2020 as the basis for eligibility, an organization’s application must have been approved by the National Council on the Arts and the Arts Endowment Chairman no later than the March 2020 meeting of the National Council on the Arts.
  • Meet the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Legal Requirements” including nonprofit, tax-exempt status at the time of application. (All organizations must apply directly on their own behalf. Applications through a fiscal sponsor/agent are not allowed. See more information on fiscal sponsors/agents.)
  • Have submitted acceptable Final Report packages by the due date(s) for all Arts Endowment award(s) previously received.

Grants will be no cost share/nonmatching and will be awarded a fixed amount of $50,000 for directs funds or a requested amount for subgranting programs by designated local arts agencies.  Grant funds awarded under these projects may only be utilized for:

  • Salary support, full or partial, for one or more positions that are critical to an organization’s artistic mission.
  • Fees for artists and/or contractual personnel to maintain or expand the period during which such persons would be engaged.
  • Facilities costs such as rent and utilities.

What To Do:

There is a very short timeline on the application process for these funds.  Information for this grant must be submitted to by April 22, 2020 with additional materials submitted through the Applicant Portal between April 27 -May 4, 2020.  To learn more about these grant funds, check out:

NEH Grants to Non-Profit Organizations

What It Is:

NEH received $75 million in supplemental funding to assist cultural institutions and humanists affected by the coronavirus as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act economic stabilization plan appropriated by Congress and signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.

Approximately 40 percent of the appropriation, or $30 million, will go directly to the 56 state and jurisdictional humanities councils, based on the standard population formula used for their annual appropriation. The remaining 60 percent, or $45 million, will support at-risk humanities positions and projects at museums, libraries and archives, historic sites, colleges and universities, and other cultural nonprofits that have been financially impacted by the coronavirus. All NEH supplemental funds must be obligated to projects by September 30, 2021.

What To Do:

As of April 13, 2020, the NEH has not announce the guidelines for their CARES Act funding opportunities.  However, they have made a commitment to announce more information by April 30, 2020.

You can follow the NEH for updates on their website and on Facebook at

Who is the Houston Arts Alliance?

Since Hurricane Harvey swept through our arts and culture industry in 2017, the Houston arts community has been working to understand how we can coordinate and prepare for greater resilience–and get back to work faster.  Houston Arts Alliance has built a disaster services program to advocate for the inclusion of artists and nonprofits in the work of the emergency management and public assistance industries.

It was because of the work done over the last 18 months that we were able to act swiftly when COVID-19 began to shut down arts programs, and we saw earned and contributed income for the arts community plummet. In the wake of the pandemic HAA has taken three major steps to help our community.

1. In partnership with twelve other arts service organizations in the region, including the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, we have been able to raise over $50,000 to give to individual artists and other arts professionals who are struggling with basic human needs, such as housing and food security.
2. We have created where we publish a curated list of resources for our community and create guides for navigating the Small Business Association, NEA grants, and unemployment from the Texas Workforce commission.
3. We are coordinating with our partner service organizations on all parts of communicating to the community.  This includes all organizations publicizing and endorsing the same damage assessment forms, coordinating email communication dates, and sharing work across the collective so each member can use its assets to create a strong collective response.

Houston Arts Alliance and the Houston arts community are committed to the economic and quality of life value the arts bring to our community, and we are continuing to provide assistance to the artists, arts organizations, and arts workers of our region.