When President Donald Trump unveiled his skinny budget, it proposed to completely defund the National Endowment for the Arts, which would in effect, defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. If Congress passes the plan, all public media stations in the U.S. would take a substantial blow to an already skimpy allowance, but it could shutter most rural stations for good.
There are 170 million people in the U.S. who rely on public media, but studies have shown low-income families in rural areas heavily use educational programming, like Sesame Street for children development. Poverty is also higher in rural pockets, but those same areas also have a harder time receiving money from individual donors as opposed to urban areas.
Currently, public media receives $445 million in appropriation, which costs every American roughly $1.35 a year. Defunding the Arts completely would still let stations like PBS and NPR continue solely through their major donors (and from viewers like you), but most rural stations will not be so lucky.
Sarah DeFilippis, the senior vice president of branding and marketing for PBS in Hartford, Conn. says defunding public broadcasting is unfortunately not a new concept in budget proposals. “I think we’re an easy mark,” she says. “It’s easy on the surface to say, ‘This is not essential.’ But when you start digging into it, you realize this is essential. The type of education lower income children get from public media cannot and is not replicated by commercial media. We’re hoping that’s something Congress recognizes ultimately.”
DeFilippis says that most rural locations only have public media stations left on their airwaves. Thanks to the high expenses associated with over-the-air broadcasting equipment, those smaller, rural isolated areas could see the end of all local public media. Children’s broadcasting is not the only programming at stake here, as PBS is home to popular series like American Masters and Nova.
“We have worked very hard for many years to reduce our dependence on government funding because it is so often under attack,” says DeFilippis. “We tried hard to maintain that stability. Doing a fundraiser is always hard work, but it has to be harder in smaller rural areas.”
Oddly enough, the victims here are Trump’s biggest supporters. He received 62 percent of votes in rural America. But with high cable costs and spotty cell service, the proposal could leave impoverished rural America in total darkness, ultimately collapsing swaths of public media broadcasting. It goes much further than Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.