PIERRE, S.D. — U.S. Reps. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., have introduced legislation to help local newspapers with their printing costs as part of the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

The legislation, called Preserving Readership and Information of Newspapers for Tomorrow (PRINT) Act was introduced Wednesday, Aug. 19, according to a news release.

“Currently, local media is eligible for the PPP, but printing costs are not forgivable under the program guidelines,” according to the release.

Johnson said that a free press is critical to democracy. “Our local news teams work day in and day out to keep South Dakotans informed of what’s happening both locally and nationally,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, local media hasn’t been immune from the financial impact of COVID-19. A slowdown of advertisements and subsequent layoffs continue to threaten our ability to maintain a free press, the PRINT Act will help alleviate some of the burden our print shops are facing.”

Peterson echoed Johnson’s statements in a media call, noting earlier conversations with smaller newspapers in Minnesota and their struggle to survive the COVID-19 economic conditions.

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"The newspapers, small newspapers, weekly newspapers in these little towns, I had a long call with them a couple weeks ago. A lot of them aren’t going to survive if we don’t get some kind of help to them because their advertising is completely dried up,” Peterson, a Democrat representing Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, told Fargo-Moorhead area business leaders Wednesday.

“Without these weekly newspapers in these small towns, I mean you’re not going to know what’s going on with the city council, with the county board, with the school board, the local obituaries," he said. "Some of these local newspapers, you’re going to not find out which neighbor visited which neighbor. I don’t know how we’re going to survive without that.”

David Bordewyk, executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, said that having the flexibility that the PRINT Act offers newspapers would be “very significant since printing costs make up a major portion of every newspaper’s ongoing fixed expenses.”

Minnesota Newspaper Association President Chris Knight said the state's newspapers are “severely challenged in their efforts to produce reliable local news and advertising products during this COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Allowing PPP funds to help cover production costs would go a long way to keep our local newspapers producing their essential publications,” Knight said.

Forum News Service reporter Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.