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story.lead_photo.caption In this 2019 file photo U.S. Senator John Boozman, R-Ark., speaks during a ribbon cutting at Rogers Mercy Hospital in Rogers. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., is backing legislation that would make more newspapers and broadcasters eligible for covid-19 economic assistance, he said Wednesday.

The lawmaker from Rogers signed on as an original co-sponsor of the Local News and Emergency Information Act of 2020, authored by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

It would expand access to the Paycheck Protection Program for media outlets if "the proceeds of the loan are used to support expenses associated with the continued provision of local news, information, content, or emergency information."

Language in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which passed March 27, prevented many of the nation's newspapers from receiving loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

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Rather than basing eligibility on the size of a local newspaper's staff, it focused on the size of a newspaper's parent company, The Wall Street Journal reported last month.

If the legislation passes, eligibility would be based on the number of employees at a publisher's or broadcaster's "individual physical location."

A newspaper site with fewer than 1,000 employees would qualify, Boozman announced.

In order to receive a loan, the outlet would have to agree not to "pay, distribute or otherwise provide" the money "to any other entity other than the individual physical location that is the intended recipient of the covered loan."

The recipient would also need to affirm that the loan is "necessary to support expenses associated with the continued provision of local news, information, content, or emergency information."

In order for broadcasters to qualify, they would need to have gross receipts of less than $41.5 million, the legislation's backers said.

The nation's newspapers have seen ad revenue and circulation plunge for more than a decade as readers and advertisers transitioned from print to online products.

The industry's already reduced ad revenue fell sharply after the declaration of a public health emergency, as commerce largely ground to a halt.

Broadcasters also experienced a swift downturn.

"All of a sudden, they had no revenue. People just aren't advertising right now because their businesses are closed," Boozman said.

The goal of the legislation is to save jobs as well as local news outlets, Boozman said.

"This is a program that is not a solution to the problems we're having but it is somewhat of a lifeline to many industries," Boozman said of the Paycheck Protection Program.

Senators from both parties are backing the bill.

"Hopefully we can get this done," Boozman said. "I think there probably will be another round of help, and so we will be working hard to include this in a bigger bill."

A local newspaper is important, Boozman said. "I think it brings communities together," he said.

In an email, Arkansas Press Association Executive Director Ashley Wimberley welcomed Wednesday's announcement.

"Sen. Boozman and others in the state's congressional delegation have been eager to find ways to help the media industry during this crisis. The Arkansas Press Association, working in partnership with the Arkansas Broadcasters Association and our counterparts at the national level, appreciate support for this important expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program. We are grateful to Sen. Boozman for his leadership in this effort," she wrote.

Under the current version of the Paycheck Protection Program loan, WEHCO Media, Inc. companies together will receive $12.3 million in loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration, Walter E. Hussman Jr., the company's chairman, said earlier this month.

WEHCO Media is the parent company of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, eight other daily newspapers and eight weekly newspapers. The company also has a cable television business. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette currently will receive a $4.2 million loan. The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will receive a $1.9 million loan. Besides being chairman of WEHCO, Hussman is publisher of the newspapers.

WEHCO has about 1,300 employees, Hussman said. About 900 of them work at the company's newspapers. Before receiving the loans, WEHCO companies asked employees to voluntarily furlough or take pay cuts because of revenue losses.

Information for this article was contributed by Bill Bowden of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Business on 05/14/2020

Print Headline: Boozman backs bill to aid newspapers, broadcasters

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