Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are demanding that the management of the Kennedy Center explain themselves after announcing the furlough of employees -- after a controversial $25 million provision in the CARES Act coronavirus stimulus was meant to keep staffers employed.
After Democrats came under fire for successfully pushing for the center's bailout, the organization announced that it is furloughing nearly 60 percent of its full-time administrative staff from April 6 to at least May 10, and that this is "apart from the 725 hourly and part-time employees already impacted."
In a letter Tuesday to Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter, the GOP representatives demanded answers and the return of at least some of the funding they just received.
"These layoffs, whether temporary or not, are counter to the spirit of the CARES Act and are concerning to Congress," the letter said, later adding that "[i]f the Kennedy Center is required to furlough its employees, it should return a portion of money Democrats fought so hard to secure.”
These furloughs were on top of what was going to be an additional furlough of musicians with the National Symphony Orchestra. According to the Washington Post, the Kennedy Center announced Tuesday that they reached a deal with the orchestra to avoid furloughs, but that musicians will take a significant pay cut at least through September.
The Republicans claimed that the center's actions prove that skepticism over the $25 million payout to the center was "well-founded."
"The public’s perception is that the Kennedy Center leadership took taxpayer funding and left their employees holding the bag," Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, said in a statement. "Congress, and more importantly the public, deserves answers to the questionable decisions made to furlough employees after receiving funding to prevent that.”
Gibbs signed the letter along with Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.; Ralph Norman, R-S.C.; Carol Miller, W.Va.; Mark Green, R-Tenn.; Greg Steube, R-Fla.; Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., and Fred Keller, R-Pa.
The letter further demanded that the center provide information in the form of a briefing that addresses why they needed to go through with "any and all furloughs, layoffs, or reductions in pay," a plan to prevent further similar measures, and a "delineated explanation of expenses" for the center.
The letter comes a week after two Republican congressmen introduced legislation to reclaim the $25 million allocated to the center in the CARES Act.
The Kennedy Center released a breakdown of how it was using the money, stating that $12,750,000 was going to employees' pay; $7,500,000 to employee benefits, and $1,750,000 for artists' contracts and fees. Of the remaining money, $1 million was marked for rent and utilities; $750,000 for information technology plus $250,000 for IT improvements on "telework capacity;" $250,000 for cleaning and $750,000 for "Other Admin Expenses."
President Trump, speaking at a White House coronavirus briefing last month, had said that he understood the Kennedy Center funding was necessary because Democrats demanded some concessions in order to get the stimulus bill passed, even though he recognized that it galled some conservatives.
Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis. -- who introduced the bill to retract the funding along with numerous cosponsors, before the layoffs happened -- said the bailout was always a "mistake."
Keller called the $25 million payout "unconscionable" given the current state of the economy.
"What’s worse, the Kennedy Center took the government’s money and laid off all their workers and musicians," Keller said in a statement. "This is an affront to the spirit of Congress’ relief effort and tantamount to a fleecing of the American taxpayer.”