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House Republicans demand Kennedy Center face questions or return the money after laying off employees amid the taxpayer bailout

The Kennedy Center is in hot water

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are demanding answers from management at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts after they decided to furlough employees immediately after receiving a $25 million taxpayer bailout as part of the CARES Act last week.

Democrats fought to include money for the performing arts center in the coronavirus stimulus package last week, in a move that became even more controversial after the Kennedy Center abruptly laid off its entire orchestra just hours after receiving the money.

In a letter Tuesday to the center's director, Timothy O'Leary, Republican lawmakers insisted that Kennedy Center management provide them with a briefing on their decision to lay off and furlough employees and explain how they are currently using the stimulus money. The lawmakers also demanded that the center return a portion of the money.

"If the Kennedy Center is required to furlough its employees, it should return a portion of money Democrats fought so hard to secure," the letter stated.

The GOP lawmakers also claimed that the Kennedy Center's actions proved "public skepticism" over the allocation of funding to the arts centers while small businesses around the country struggled to stay afloat was "well-founded."

"The public's perception is that the Kennedy Center leadership took taxpayer funding and left their employees holding the bag," Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) said in a statement, according to Fox News. "Congress, and more importantly the public, deserves answers to the questionable decisions made to furlough employees after receiving funding to prevent that."

The letter came just a week after a GOP congressman introduced a bill to rescind the stimulus funds.

After news broke to conservative ire that the arts center was to receive taxpayer money, the Kennedy Center responded defending the windfall — only to be eviscerated on Twitter.

"The ability to deliver on our mandated mission is at risk," the center said in a statement. "As a result, federal relief funding is the only way we will be in a position to reopen the nation's cultural center when our government officials tell us it is safe to do so."

"The Kennedy Center is no more deserving of money than any other theater that is about to go under," David Harsanyi of National Review wrote.

Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley asked, "How many more people could have been helped with this money?"

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to state that only one GOP Congressman, Rep. Bryan Steil (Wisc.), introduced a bill to rescind stimulus money given to the Kennedy Center, not two.

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