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The Senate’s massive $2 trillion stimulus package is intended to provide relief to Americans battered by the coronavirus pandemic, but it also contains a grab bag of provisions that appear unrelated to the tandem health and economic crises.
That includes $25 million for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington; $13 million for Howard University and $75 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Another $50 million was designated to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which distributes funds to museums and libraries.
According to a draft of the bill, the Kennedy Center will use the money to “cover operating expenses required to ensure the continuity of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and its affiliates. The money is intended to be used for employee compensation and benefits, grants, contracts, rent or utilities, fees for artists or performers, information technology and other administrative expenses.
The inclusion of funding for the Kennedy Center began as a Democratic request, a fact that some Republicans have used to cite as an example of unnecessary spending in a bill designed to help workers and families.
But on Wednesday, President Trump defended the $25 million and said he personally approved it.
“The Kennedy Center has suffered greatly,” Trump told reporters during a White House press conference. "I haven’t spent time there because I’m far too busy. I’d love to go there evenings, but I’m too busy doing things."
Trump acknowledged that aiding an institution like the Kennedy Center might come across like “not a good sound bite, but that’s the way life works.”
The arts hub, which has canceled all performances until May 10 because of the pandemic, is among the slew of businesses that have been forced to close their doors in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the disease spread by the novel coronavirus. The number of Americans filing unemployment claims surged to 3.28 million last week, shattering a decades-old record, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
The Kennedy Center did not immediately respond to a FOX Business request for comment, but in a statement posted to its website, said it's responsible for employing nearly 3,000 people and compensating more than 1,000 guest artists.
“Our workforce includes artists, programmers, administrative and production staff, ushers, bartenders, food service employees, parking attendants, and many more, all of whom have been impacted or will soon be impacted by the closure of the Kennedy Center,” the statement said. “The ability to deliver on our mandated mission is at risk. As a result, federal relief funding is the only way we will be in a position to reopen the nation’s cultural center when our government officials tell us it is safe to do so.”
The Kennedy Center has a bipartisan board of trustees, including first lady Melania Trump and Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt. Every first lady since the Carter administration has served on the board.
The legislation stipulates that board members must provide the House and Senate Appropriations Committees with a detailed report of the usage and distribution of the money.
The Senate unanimously passed the emergency relief packed on Wednesday and now awaits approval by the House of Representatives.