Fairgrounds are the living rooms of our society. In good times and bad, they are gathering spots for celebration and for service. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been where people get tested and where official information is shared. During natural disasters, such as wildfires, floods and earthquakes, they serve as shelters and emergency medical units. In this time of national catastrophe and economic uncertainty, fairgrounds have no income, and no events. And yet, they are an essential service — an essential service that needs to be part of any financial recovery and stimulus.
Facing never-before-seen or anticipated loss of income, employees and resources, the Western Fairs Association and California Fairs Alliance are pushing for passage of the Protecting Fairs During Coronavirus Act and the Agriculture Fairs Rescue Act. They are calling for public assistance to support the effort.
“Fairgrounds are an essential part of the infrastructure necessary for state and local communities to effectively respond in natural disasters and emergencies,” said Sarah Cummings, President and CEO of the Western Fairs Association/California Fairs Alliance. “Fairgrounds generate multi-millions of dollars in non-profit and community benefits, promoting agriculture and a quality of life serving as gathering spots, recreation facilities and learning centers. Now is the time to provide emergency funding and preserve the legacy of our nation’s fairgrounds for future generations to come. “
On July 23, 2020 Rep. Josh Harder (D-CA) introduced the Protecting Fairs During Coronavirus Act (H.R. 7745) in response to concerns from county and state fair leaders. The bill would create a new emergency grant program to help offset the massive revenue losses our fairs are experiencing because of health care measures taken to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The Protecting Fairs During Coronavirus Act would establish a $5 billion federal grant program to offset fair revenue losses during the coronavirus pandemic. The fund would be available for both 2020 as well as 2021. States could apply for aid from the United States Department of Agriculture and then distribute the funds to fairs in their state.
On July 30, 2020 Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) introduced the Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act (H.R. 7883). The Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act would provide $500 million in grant funding to establish a program to award grants to states or state departments of agriculture to provide support to agricultural fairs for losses sustained by fairs during the coronavirus pandemic. Grant amounts shall be based on the difference between the average attendance at agricultural fairs in the state for a month occurring in 2019 compared to the corresponding month in 2020.
“Fairgrounds are funded solely by the revenue that they generate from the annual fairs, and other large-scale events, which are now prohibited due to COVID-19,” Cummings explains. “Many fairgrounds are now facing an uncertain future. We need emergency funding in the new package of federal economic relief. Without support, many fairs will close permanently and the communities they serve will suffer.”
To date as a result of the response to COVID-19 most fairs have canceled, postponed, or drastically altered their annual events, and more are expected to make that decision in the coming weeks. Educational, entertainment, and family events that are important to the communities they serve, like weddings, family reunions, seasonal trade shows, equestrian events, dog shows, unicameral, stand down events for veterans, non-profit organization fundraisers, learning center activities, and other community events have also been canceled, postponed, or closed. The financial hardship is not only felt by fairs and employees but also by service members and all the local businesses that rely on our fairgrounds and their networks to survive.
“The fact is, mass gatherings like sporting events, fairs, or concerts aren’t going to happen any time soon. Fairgrounds are self-funded. Without quick, effective and substantial federal assistance, the fairgrounds that have become a vital part of your community’s response to COVID might be forced to close.”