Following the cancellation of fairs throughout the state this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rep. Josh Harder is hoping a new bill he introduced this week will help alleviate some of their economic strain and keep them afloat until next year.
During a virtual round table discussion held via Zoom on July 23, Harder announced the Protecting Fairs During Coronavirus Act — a legislative effort that would create an emergency grant program to help offset the massive revenue losses experienced by fairs this year.
According to the California Fairs Alliance, fairs across California preserve 30,000 jobs, generate $3.5 billion in local revenue, and contribute $200 million in local tax revenue for local and state governments – all of which could be in jeopardy if individual county sites are forced to sell off either part or all of their properties in order to offset the losses incurred by not holding events this year.
“The Western Fairs Association, the California Fairs Alliance, and our Service Member partners are in strong support of Representative Josh Harder’s efforts to include the fair industry in Congressional legislation to assist during this time of National Emergency,” said Sarah Cummings, the President and CEO of the Western Fairs Association. “Fairgrounds are an essential part of the infrastructure necessary for state and local communities to effectively respond in natural disasters and emergencies. More importantly, fairgrounds are often the heartbeat of their communities, generating 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 the state’s Fairgrounds for future generations to come.”
Locally, the Stanislaus County Fair boasted an attendance of over 260,000 in 2019. After announcing in April that the annual event in Turlock would be canceled, however, the fair has laid off a majority of its employees and is in danger of operating at a deficit by October if no action is taken.
The Protecting Fairs During Coronavirus Act would establish a $5 billion federal grant program available for both 2020 as well as 2021. States would be able to apply for aid from the United States Department of Agriculture and then distribute the funds to fairs in their state.
“We’re doing this because fairs are really important. They’re really important to me; they’re really important to our economy and to our entire community. It’s one of the best things we do in the Central Valley,” Harder said. “…Fairs can really have a lifelong impact on kids and families.”
Turlock and other communities throughout the state rely on their annual fairs as economic drivers which provide jobs, create fundraising opportunities and attract tourism. The Stanislaus County Fairgrounds serve as the heartbeat of the region, enabling emergency services and hosting community events all while promoting agriculture. The San Joaquin County Fair even hosted the command center three years ago when flooding seemed like a real possibility in south Manteca.
The endless educational opportunities the fair provides for students through 4-H and the Future Farmers of America, like the livestock shows and auctions, have been forced online this year, and local nonprofits that typically make most of their revenue at the fair are struggling to make ends meet.
“Like every fair across the state, we are looking outside the box at how to keep supporting our communities,” Stanislaus County Fair CEO Matt Cranford said, pointing to the organization’s work to secure Personal Protective Equipment for local healthcare professionals. “The nonprofits look to us to find ways to fundraise…these nonprofits have lost their major source of revenue, so we’re seeing that economic impact and that social impact on playgrounds, on youth activities and other social movements that the Lions Club and the Rotary Club put out.
“Economically, locally we’re feeling the pinch…it’s definitely a tough environment and we’re doing all we can to keep it going.”
Former Stanislaus County Fair Board of Directors Finance Chair Angelica Anguiano shared that the organization has only been able to operate this long with zero revenue coming in thanks to the first federal aid package and the Friends of the Fair Foundation, which was created to raise funds locally when the state slashed its budget funding for fairs in 2011.
The Stanislaus County Fair had to pay companies who had already completed work in preparation for the fair this year despite the event being canceled, and has also returned thousands of dollars in rental deposits back to organizations and companies that can no longer host their events at the fairgrounds. Now, the money from the foundation has run out and Anguiano warned that the fair would be “in the red” by October.
The San Joaquin County Fair, typically a four-day summer event, which was also cancelled, is expected to lose out on half a million dollars this year.
Both Anguiano and Cranford applauded Harder’s new bill.
“Without this bill going forward and making it through, our fair will likely not survive,” Anguiano said.
Despite the trillions in relief already spent by the federal government during the coronavirus pandemic, Harder is hopeful that the fair industry can receive a bailout just as airlines and hotels were previously given. As Washington mulls over a second coronavirus stimulus package, Harder hopes the Protecting Fairs During Coronavirus Act can be included in the conversation.
Because after all, he said, “there’s nothing more American than apple pies and county fairs.”
“We’ve already done targeted COVID response packages for airlines and other industries that were hard hit, but fairs are a huge economic driver especially among more rural areas like ours, and that money is invested back into this community,” Harder said. “So, I think the $5 billion number is a bargain to make sure that places like the Stanislaus County Fair survive and provide the experiences like the ones you’ve heard today.”
Reporter Jason Campbell contributed to this report.