Cooper: Lookouts see glimmer of financial aid in pandemic relief funds


What could be more American than baseball?

Or as the 1970s commercial jingle says, “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. They go together in the good old America – baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.”

In 2020, with a global pandemic raging, you could still have hot dogs, apple pie, and a Chevrolet. But you could only watch baseball on TV, and you couldn’t watch minor league baseball at all.

This hit many teams, such as the Chattanooga Lookouts, right in the wallet.

As team president Rich Mozingo told David Paschall of this newspaper, the team’s only income came from sales at the gift shop, a few high school baseball games, and two fall concerts. . And while the organization received two rounds of assistance from the federal paycheck protection program, Mozingo and all of its staff were put on leave on May 1, 2020.

So when US Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., And a bipartisan group of Senators and House members recently introduced the Minor League Baseball Relief Act that would provide emergency aid to minor league teams, it seemed be a godsend.

Better yet, none of the members of Congress had to explain to the public how the expense would be paid by soaking the rich or “getting people to pay their fair share” or raising corporate taxes. Instead, the legislation would allow minor leagues in baseball to access up to $ 550 million in emergency grants to be administered by the Small Business Administration and made available through funding authorized under the previous COVID-19 aid legislation that would otherwise be returned to the Treasury Department.

Now the bad news.

Funding would only be made available to minor league baseball if it is determined that it is no longer needed for its original purpose and would otherwise be unused.

Sad to say, but rare is the public service saying they have all the money they need, thank you. Here, put the rest back in the Federal Reserve.

We remember vividly, in a single example from President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, how programs at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga were told they had to order new furniture – not because what they had was in bad shape, but because if they didn’t, they would lose the funding.

Now for the other bad news.

There are other hands looking for unused relief money.

A bipartisan group of 10 senators has already suggested that unspent COVID-19 relief money, as well as new charges on electric vehicles, be part of the ways the government pays for the proposed infrastructure plan of 1, $ 2 trillion.

A White House deputy press secretary recently told reporters that all but about 5% of the relief funds approved before this year’s US bailout had been spent, and that of the remaining amount, “uncommitted balances “the most important concerned the financing of rural hospitals and health. healthcare providers as well as disaster loans for small businesses.

Whether these small business disaster loans may be some of the money Blackburn and his colleagues have in mind, or whether all of this would come from the over-the-top plan passed earlier this year is unclear.

But it is clear that some states will fight before giving up a single penny.

In California, for example, which last week had spent none of the $ 27 billion received as part of the US bailout and had a budget surplus of $ 75 million due to the relief funds it received. had received previously, State Treasurer Fiona Ma wrote to Congress. reallocation of any funds “would result in a massive loss of income for large and small communities.”

Likewise, mayors and local lawmakers advocate that funds are not used for infrastructure. A joint letter from the United States Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties maintains that the funds are “to deal with the continuing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic (in fact about 9% funds, according to various fact-checkers) and are essential for providing emergency assistance to households and small businesses, sustaining essential government services, stimulating economic recovery and addressing the ongoing public health crisis. ”

We don’t envy the situation the Lookouts and other minor league franchises find themselves in, which employ approximately 3,300 full-time and 32,000 part-time workers. Many teenagers – it can be said with some authority – have found their first jobs in such places. Of course, restaurants and various tourist attractions are also found in the same boat.

We do not know what the prospects for passing the Minor League Baseball Relief Act are. We hope for the good of the teams that they are good. But we also know the reluctance of public and private entities to return the money once allocated.

While such legislation will be debated over the next few months, the only sure-fire way to do our part is to attend games. Minor league baseball is a steal, and it’s hard to beat a night at the ballpark, especially when it’s helping the team.

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