Oversight Republicans ask for info to hold Kennedy Center accountable on coronavirus aid

Published: Apr 7, 2020

Today, several Republican members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform requested information about the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ recent decision to furlough employees despite receiving $25 million in COVID-19 aid from Congress.

In a letter — which was led by Oversight Committee member Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) — the legislators tell Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter that, as a “job creator,” the Kennedy Center should be held to the same standards as American businesses who have received similar coronavirus relief.

“The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was expressly designed to provide substantive aid to small businesses and institutions that have been upended by the scourge of COVID-19,” said Rep. Foxx. “Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi’s provision of $25 million for the Kennedy Center within the CARES Act has fallen far short of its intended purpose. The intent of the Kennedy Center to furlough over 700 administrative, part-time, and hourly workers is entirely antithetical not only to the spirit of the CARES Act, but also to the expressed purpose of protecting workers with a $25 million injection. When it comes to protecting the livelihoods of hardworking Americans, misplaced priorities are unacceptable. I look forward to hearing from President Rutter on this issue immediately.”

Cosigners to the letter are GOP Reps. Virginia Foxx (NC), Glenn Grothman (WI), Bob Gibbs (OH), Ralph Norman (SC), Carol Miller (WV), Mark Green (TN) Greg Steube (FL), and Fred Keller (PA).

Excerpts from the letter:

“The assistance in the CARES Act is a commitment from the government to stand by and assist those businesses and institutions that keep the American people employed.” 

“In light of the Kennedy Center’s most recent actions, public skepticism over the Democrats’ $25 million special allocation to a cultural center while small businesses struggled to keep people on the payroll was well-founded.”

“These layoffs, whether temporary or not, are counter to the spirit of the CARES Act and are concerning to Congress.”

Read the full text of the letter here.

Background:

  • Late last month, Congress acted swiftly to pass the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) in order to provide critical financial assistance to workers, businesses and industries affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • At the request of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, that legislation included a $25 million allotment to the Kennedy Center.
  • Despite this allotment, the Kennedy Center later said that it planned to furlough most of its administrative staff and more than 700 hourly and part-time employees.
  • The CARES Act says that small businesses and receiving loans under its provisions are required to pay back a percentage of the loan commensurate with the number of employees furloughed or otherwise terminated.

“If the Kennedy Center is required to furlough its employees, it should return a portion of money Democrats fought so hard to secure,” the letter reads.

What members are saying:

Rep. Glenn Grothman: “This is another example of a ridiculous double standard. This well-heeled organization should not be receiving special treatment solely because of their connections to hoity-toity members of Congress.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­”

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH): “The CARES Act was passed to help Americans who lost work and are suffering financially as a result of the coronavirus. The funding Kennedy Center received was meant to assist the Center in continuity of operations and makes employees and contractors whole. The public’s perception is that the Kennedy Center leadership took taxpayer funding and left their employees holding the bag. Congress, and more importantly the public, deserves answers to the questionable decisions made to furlough employees after receiving funding to prevent that.”

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC): “Because the federal government partly funds the Kennedy Center, it is Congress’ responsibility to ensure that those dollars have been used appropriately.  The purpose of the most recent appropriation to the Kennedy Center in the CARES Act was, in part, to help protect the Center’s employees.  As such, the Oversight Committee must investigate how these funds were used, who spent them, and who ultimately stands to benefit.”

Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL): “The Kennedy Center fired hundreds of employees after receiving $25 million in COVID-19 relief funding, We must hold them accountable and get to the bottom of this wasteful government spending!”

Rep. Fred Keller (R-PA): “With so many Americans struggling to make ends meet due to COVID-19, it is unconscionable that the Kennedy Center received a $25 million giveaway in the CARES Act. What’s worse, the Kennedy Center took the government’s money and laid off all their workers and musicians. This is an affront to the spirit of Congress’ relief effort and tantamount to a fleecing of the American taxpayer. I hope we are afforded the opportunity to exercise our committee’s proper oversight function in looking deeper into this very troubling situation.”

Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV): “Congress worked around the clock to pass the CARES Act in order to support businesses and employees during this economic crisis. It was very disappointing to see the Kennedy Center receive this funding and immediately stop paying hundreds of workers. We must provide the proper oversight to ensure this funding is being used for its intended purpose, which is helping those in need and keeping Americans employed.”

Rep. Mark Green (R-TN): “The purpose of the CARES Act was to protect jobs, not destroy them. If the Kennedy Center wants to turn around and furlough its employees after receiving $25 million from Congress, it can stop the pretense and return the funding. That’s the protocol every other business receiving aid from the CARES Act has to follow. The Kennedy Center, despite its lofty connections in Congress, is no exception.”