Letter to the Editor: Big Bird has the upper hand on Trump

Composite image illustrates Big Bird from "Sesame Street" on the lawn in front of the U.S. Capitol. Congress is considering cuts to public broadcasting in the 2018 budget. | Background photo by prill / iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

OPINION – The White House released the President’s 2018 budget in March and, predictably, it proposes to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Headlines such as “Big Bird on the Chopping Block” and “The End of Big Bird?” dominated media outlets. Could Sesame Street disappear if the CPB loses federal funding?

Supporters claim any cuts will harm children through the loss of educational programming. Opponents point to the nation’s $20 trillion debt and say cuts need to be made everywhere (and, in some circles, because Big Bird is a commie propaganda tool). They’re both wrong. Let’s dig into the numbers.

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit corporation that owns Sesame Street, solved the age-old problem of sustainability. From its modest beginnings in the late-1960s — through grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the Ford and Carnegie foundations — Sesame Street has grown into a global brand with annual revenues exceeding $100 million according to the company’s audited financial reports, (according to the Foundation Center’s published Form 990 filing data, accessed March 29 and April 25). Recent IRS tax filings show that federal grants account for no more than 4 percent of revenues.

IRS filings also reveal generous compensation packages earned by its top executives. In 2014, Sesame Workshop’s former CEO earned more than $586,000, in salary and benefits, for the nine months leading up to his retirement (the previous year, he earned $672,000). Ten other key employees earned an average $382,000 in annual compensation. Sesame Workshop’s lead writer pulled down an impressive $597,000 salary in 2014. (See March 17 commentary by John Merline, Investor’s Business Daily.)

Sesame Workshop clearly does not need government grants to stay afloat. In fact, the money it currently receives isn’t used to produce domestic Sesame Street episodes (more on this later). Any financial issues Sesame Workshop has in the future won’t be due to federal funding cuts.

Sesame Workshop has a contract with HBO through 2020 to produce new content for its network. Episodes broadcast first on HBO, nine months later they appear on public television stations. This investment puts Sesame Street in a secure position. HBO executives understand the paramount importance of quality content; they see tremendous upside from Sesame Street’s production value and intensely loyal audience. This is a winning proposition for Sesame Workshop and HBO.

Even if the CPB loses funding, Sesame Street will carry on. When Sesame Street first aired, there were only a handful of television stations in each market. Public television served a valuable purpose by providing a medium for the new educational programming. Today — between digital broadcast, cable, satellite, online streaming and video podcasts — there are hundreds of outlets available to Sesame Street. Episodes could even be shown with minimal commercial interruptions like current public television shows.

It’s an antiquated notion that programs like Sesame Street should remain on public television either out of nostalgia or because “that’s how it’s always been done.” Those days are gone.

On the other side of the coin, eliminating Sesame Workshop’s funding will not reduce the national debt by one penny. The funding it receives supports military families and provides educational opportunities overseas — programs initiated by the federal government!

Sesame Workshop isn’t coming to Uncle Sam looking for a handout to stay on the air; this funding is for work Uncle Sam asked Sesame Workshop to perform. Short of a total elimination of foreign aid, the U.S. will continue supporting developing nations. If Sesame Workshop isn’t the primary grantee or contractor, another educational provider will step in to perform the work.

According to USAspending.gov, Sesame Workshop received approximately $54.5 million in federal funds between 2008 and 2016: 78 grants/cooperative agreements ($39 million); 71 contracts ($15 million); and 2 subawards ($561,000). Grants were awarded predominantly by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of State for work in countries such as Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Jordan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia and Bulgaria. The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs issued all but five of the 71 contracts. (Note: Every contract was awarded on a sole-source/no-bid basis. Perhaps, the dealmaker at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue can investigate the lack of competition.)

So here we are: once again stuck between two political parties bickering over a few million dollars and two scenarios that will never occur. To what end? Campaign donations? Arguing for the sake of arguing? Washington, D.C., has become a Solutions-Free Zone.

Cut the funding or don’t cut it but move on to bigger issues that will impact — and benefit — all Americans.

Dave Farley, founder and CEO of The Grant Doctors LLC | Profile photo courtesy of Dave Farley, St. George News

Submitted by DAVE FARLEY, founder and CEO of The Grants Doctors LLC, a federal grants consultancy based in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Letters to the Editor are not the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them.

Email: [email protected] | Email Dave Farley: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews | @thegrantdoctors


Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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  • Not_So_Much April 26, 2017 at 7:42 am

    Thank you Mr Farley. At last some good ‘ol common sense based on factual information.

  • comments April 26, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    PBS and npr irritate me because so much of their stuff actually is cultural marxist propaganda– gay and trans agendas, 3rd world diversity agendas, other extreme agendas which I won’t name because some may consider it racist to point out. (don’t know if sesame street has gone that far yet but the others have). And wrap all that BS up in a nice corporatist money-making package. Sesame street can go away. It’s outlived its usefulness.

    • mesaman April 26, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      That is spot on! The problem with CPB is the same as the problem with PBS. They want to lean to the left but expect both sides to pick up the bill for the airing of their liberal dogma.

  • dodgers April 26, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    Big Bird needs to stand on its own two feet. It sounds like we’d save millions, and Big Bird should just be the beginning. There aren’t any silver bullets. Let those who want the bird support the bird, contribute their own money. And get our federal government out of such unintended roles.

  • commonsense April 26, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Any tax money spent on entertainment is wrong, especially propaganda coming from NPR.
    Entertainers are highly compensated and should contribute rather than abuse the treasury.
    Liberals have a poor track record of donating to anything. They think the hard working tax payer shouid subsidize their whims.

    • comments April 27, 2017 at 11:40 am

      OMG, here we go, I’m taking the bait:

      “Liberals have a poor track record of donating to anything. They think the hard working tax payer shouid subsidize their whims.”

      Neo-cons have a poor track record of donating to anything. They think the hard working tax payer should give trillion dollar bail outs to failed wallstreet banks and pay for trillion dollar failed mideast wars.

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