Statement of Patricia de Stacy Harrison, President and CEO, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, House Committee on Appropriations

Apr 08, 2019

Chairwoman DeLauro, Ranking Member Cole and distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for allowing me to submit this testimony on behalf of America’s public media service—public television and public radio—on-air, online and serving communities throughout our country. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) requests funding of $495 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, $20 million in FY 2020 for the replacement of the public broadcasting interconnection system and other technologies and services, and $30 million for the Department of Education’s Ready To Learn program.

Through this uniquely American public-private partnership, CPB serves as the steward of the federal appropriation, ensuring that 95 cents of every dollar we receive goes to support local stations and the programs and services they offer to their communities. No more than five cents of every dollar goes to overhead. Public media stations in rural, small town and urban communities across the country use these “first-in” federal dollars to raise, on average, six times that amount from private funding. This indispensable investment provides for the content and community services that address the diverse needs of our viewers and listeners, serving Americans at every stage of their lives.

Parents choose public media content and services to prepare their children for school. They trust public media as a family-friendly, safe environment for learning. This is just one reason why PBS Kids is the number-one educational media brand for supporting children’s learning and development. Through the Department of Education’s Ready to Learn grant, CPB is helping deliver free, research-based educational content, digital resources for parents and teachers, and safe, online learning experiences for kids. What makes this grant program unique is public television stations’ community-based partnerships with Head Start centers, daycare facilities, healthcare centers, faith-based organizations and others to expand the impact of public media’s content and resources beyond the broadcast, especially in low-income and underserved communities.

Today’s workers are challenged by a rapidly changing economy, requiring different skills for in-demand jobs. Public media is addressing the workforce skills gap through CPB’s American Graduate: Getting To Work initiative. Public media stations are working with local businesses, education and workforce-related organizations, connecting potential job seekers with the resources and information they need to pursue jobs and successful careers. CPB funding also makes it possible for public television to operate the largest not-for-profit GED program in the country and for many stations to provide job training and certification courses.

At a time when people are feeling isolated from one another, from our shared culture and from the institutions and organizations that seek to support us, public media matters now more than ever. Through nationwide community conversations, authentic, local storytelling, and effective collaborations and partnerships, the nearly 1,500 locally owned and operated public radio and television stations across the country are playing an important role providing content and engagement that fosters an environment of mutual respect and understanding.

For example, building the foundation for a stronger civil society, CPB is a founding supporter of StoryCorps. StoryCorps, through their One Small Step initiative, is bringing together people of diverse, opposing views for thoughtful conversations in a safe and respectful environment. These conversations are aired on public radio and archived in the Library of Congress. Over the past five years, CPB’s Veteran’s Coming Home initiative has worked to bridge the military-civilian divide and honor those that serve. Through local storytelling events, job fairs, and informational content that leads veterans to assistance, stations are ensuring that the experiences and sacrifices of military members and their families are heard at a time when fewer Americans are serving. This year, a new CPB initiative will provide grants to stations serving rural communities to magnify local stories and explore what “home” means in terms of pride of place, commitment and contribution to one’s community, and how our connection to home shapes what it means to be an American.

Because public media stations are locally owned and operated, they are aware early on of local issues that often rise to the level of national impact. Over the past several years, local stations across the country have witnessed the impact of the opioid epidemic. In response, stations in all 50 states have produced thousands of hours of local broadcast and online coverage, hosted hundreds of town halls and other events, and collaborated with experts to direct those affected to the support and resources they need to fight addiction. Nationally, programs such as FRONTLINE, PBS NewsHour and NOVA have covered the opioid issue in depth. In states hardest hit by opioid addiction, CPB-supported journalism collaborations have produced award-winning reporting on the crisis. These stations’ daily reporting, which is also published and enhanced online with expanded resources, allows listeners and viewers to engage directly with the support tools they seek.

Public media is owned by the American public. CPB’s commitment to diversity and inclusion ensures that Americans of all backgrounds are represented in our content and the creation of our stories. From educational children’s content like Molly of Denali, featuring the first Alaska Native lead character in a children’s series, that teaches scientific inquiry through adventures in rural, native Alaska; to CPB-supported regional journalism collaborations that elevate local stories and strengthen newsroom and editorial capacity; to documentaries that tell the untold or overlooked history of our diverse society, CPB is living up to its mission to address the needs of unserved and underserved audiences.

Public media stations are committed to serving the needs of their local communities. Their “beyond the broadcast” services are an essential part of that service. Increasingly, state and local public safety officials, schools, education, community and business leaders are seeking to partner with public media. Stations are the backbone of the national Emergency Alert System (EAS), transmitting life-saving warnings from state and local officials about severe weather, evacuation routes and AMBER alerts. Through data-casting capabilities, public television stations work with first responders to deliver instant, secure, encrypted IP data and communications to targeted emergency responders while continuing regular broadcast service.

Today’s media environment is marked by disruption and changing demand. Media consumption habits, audience expectations, and media technologies continue to evolve rapidly. Over the past years, CPB has anticipated the changes in the media landscape and responded by investing in shared technology that reduces redundant costs across the system. CPB’s investments enable stations to engage more effectively with audiences across the rapidly growing range of digital channels – from websites to apps, new video platforms to smart speakers. Public media has a strong foundation in creating engaging and enriching content which is paired with a commitment to innovation – as content creators, storytellers, and connectors – embracing constantly changing technologies. With additional support, CPB would invest in new technologies and infrastructure that benefit the entire system, so that stations can strategically focus their limited resources on creating additional local content and services. This investment combination will increase our ability to meet audiences where they choose and will enhance their public media experience.

Interconnection Infrastructure: Interconnection is the backbone of the public media system, delivering content every day from public media producers to public television and radio stations in communities throughout the country. Without it, there is no nationwide public media service. Recognizing its importance, Congress has always funded public media’s interconnection system since FY 1991 by providing a separate, periodic appropriation for interconnection. CPB appreciates Congress’ support of moving the interconnection infrastructure to an annual, ongoing funding cycle. This allows CPB the flexibility to contract for incremental upgrades as innovations in technology are realized and costs decrease. These efficiencies and technological improvements will advance the system and benefit the American people.

CPB’s FY 2022 request of $495 million and FY 2020 requests of $20 million and $30 million for interconnection and Ready To Learn, respectively, provides essential support to stations – particularly those serving rural, minority and other underserved communities – and enables innovation and technological advances. While private donations and existing funding sources help defray costs for the acclaimed programs of public television and radio, the federal investment is critical to sustaining the operations of public media stations and keeps their services commercial free and available to all Americans free of charge.

We know that Americans value their local public media stations. With your support, CPB will continue to serve as a trusted steward of the federal appropriation and invest these taxpayer dollars in ways that strengthen the health of our civil society. Ms. Chairwoman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for allowing me, on behalf of America’s public media, to submit this testimony. I appreciate your consideration of our funding request.