Some Nonprofits Call on Congress to Pass Health Reform. Why Some?


SleepingThe Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting on a letter, signed by 23 major arts organizations, calling on Congress to pass healthcare reform with a public option that ensures “people can get affordable health coverage without being denied because of pre-existing conditions.”

This is a moment to celebrate, right? Yes, absolutely.

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The text of the letter, right on time, is on the website of Americans for the Arts. It reads, in part:

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The current economic crisis has affected the cultural sector as dramatically as it has the millions of unemployed and uninsured Americans. Like others who have fallen through the cracks of the current system, many in the cultural workforce work independently or operate in nontraditional employment relationships, leaving them locked out of group healthcare coverage options. Additionally, soaring health care costs are consuming the ever decreasing budgets of nonprofit arts organizations hit hard by today’s economic recession. The time for reform that delivers high quality and affordable health care for businesses and individuals is now. We call on Congress to pass:

• A health care reform bill that will create a public health insurance option for individual artists, especially the uninsured, and create better choices for affordable access to universal health coverage without being denied because of pre-existing conditions.

• A health care reform bill that will help financially-strapped nonprofit arts organizations reduce the skyrocketing health insurance costs to cover their employees without cuts to existing benefits and staff while the economy recovers. These new cost-savings could also enable nonprofit arts organizations to produce and present more programs to serve their communities.

• A health care reform bill that will enable smaller nonprofit and unincorporated arts groups to afford to cover part and full-time employees for the first time.

• A health care reform bill that will support arts in healthcare programs, which have shown to be effective methods of prevention and patient care.

Here, however, is the question. Other than issuing a letter — and it isn’t clear to whom it was sent — what exactly are these groups doing to advocate for healthcare reform? True, some are constrained, by dint of their nonprofit status, from engaging in political activity. But surely, if they’ve signed the letter, they should alert their constituents, right? Where else would they do this but on their websites? (Emails, too, of course.)

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So we decided to investigate, checking the websites of each signatory to see if the letter — either the text of it or a link or a mention of it — is up as yet on their websites. The only one so far is…Americans for the Arts.

As part of our investigation, we checked to see what kind of advocacy information their websites contain. Here are the results:

Americans for the Arts — unquestionably the best advocacy information out there. As for the letter, you kind of have to search for it, but it’s there.

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Alliance of Artists Communities — not yet; fair-to-middling advocacy information

American Art Therapy Association — not yet; URL may be under reorganization

American Association of Community Theatre — not yet; good advocacy page

American Dance Therapy Association — not yet; nice site but no separate advocacy page

American Music Therapy Association — not yet; some advocacy information

Americans for the Arts Action Fund — offshoot of Americans for the Arts; letter isn’t online yet but advocacy is what it’s all about

Arts & Business Council — unclear whether this is the offshoot of Americans for the Arts or one of the regional groups

Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design — academic site; no dedicated advocacy page, perhaps due to legal restrictions

Association of Writers & Writing Programs — not yet; no advocacy page, but clickable links at bottom

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Business Committee for the Arts — unclear whether this is the offshoot of Americans for the Arts or one of the regional groups

Fractured Atlas — not yet, but there is a great advocacy page that includes this statement: “We lobby for policies and legislation that help artists and arts organizations make work and contribute to their communities. As a 501(c)(3) public charity, we are non-partisan and cannot endorse candidates for office. But we are aggressive within the limits of the law at promoting and protecting the interests of our constituency.”

Grantmakers in the Arts — not yet; no dedicated advocacy page, perhaps due to legal restrictions

Literary Network — not clear what this organization is

National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture — not yet; a good advocacy page that examines various issues

National Center for Creative Aging — not yet; an excellent advocacy page broken out by “policy” and “research”

National Dance Association — not yet; a link to a surprisingly robust advocacy page

National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts — not yet; a link to a surprisingly robust advocacy page

Society for Arts in Healthcare — not yet; an orgy of advocacy and research information

Theatre Communications Group — not yet; a dedicated advocacy page that outlines its support of specific issues

VSA Arts — not yet; smattering of advocacy information

Interestingly, of the list of groups that signed a letter last November urging then-President-Elect Obama to raise the annual appropriation of the National Endowment of the Arts to more than $300 million, many did not sign this letter urging Congress to do the right thing on healthcare reform. The groups with their names not on board this time are:

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American Association of Museums
American String Teachers Association
Association of Art Museum Directors
Association of Performing Arts Presenters
Chamber Music America
Chorus America
League of American Orchestras
NAMM, the International Music Products Association
National Alliance for Musical Theatre
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
National Council for Traditional Arts
National Dance Education Organization
National Network for Folk Arts in Education
National Performance Network
OPERA America
Performing Arts Alliance

Does this mean they all oppose a public option?