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Help Preserve Federal Funding for the Humanities

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December 20, 2016

Help Preserve Federal Funding for the Humanities

By: Beatrice Gurwitz, Assistant Director, NHA

With a new President and Congress taking office this month, it is time to redouble our advocacy efforts on behalf of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and other federal humanities funding streams.  At this critical time, each individual member of the AAA has a crucial role to play in making clear to elected officials that their constituents value the humanities. Below, we provide an overview of the legislative landscape and information about the ways you can help safeguard the NEH and other federal programs.

An Uncertain Landscape

November’s elections created a newly uncertain landscape, and we believe that there is now an increased risk of three adverse scenarios: (1) an effort to decrease non-defense discretionary appropriations in general, leading to a proportional reduction in the NEH’s funding; (2) a more targeted effort to decrease funding for the NEH; and (3) an attempt to eliminate the NEH altogether.

These scenarios concern us given that for the past four years, the House Budget Committee has issued  a non-binding recommendation to substantially cut non-defense discretionary spending and eliminate the NEH. In recent months, we have also seen certain Senators raise concerns about specific grants and the NEH’s grant-making process more generally. Finally, we are concerned that the general discourse of anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism prevalent during the election cycle will manifest itself in attacks on the NEH or other humanities programs.

At the same time, we have been heartened by the support Republicans in Congress—particularly appropriators—have demonstrated for the NEH in recent years. Despite the recommendation in the budget resolution, Republican-led appropriations committees passed a modest increase for the NEH in FY 2016 and proposed another for FY 2017. We count a growing number of Republican allies in Congress and do not believe that humanities funding is, or should be, a partisan issue. Further, the incoming Trump Administration has given no indication that they support efforts to defund or eliminate federal humanities programs, including the NEH.

While we have a solid foundation of support, we are realistic about the possibility of threats to NEH funding and are preparing to vigorously oppose any proposals that would harm the humanities.

Appropriations Timeline

Congress failed to pass appropriations bills for FY 2017 before FY 2016 ended on October 1, 2016. Instead, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government at FY 2016 levels through December 9, 2016. In December, Congress passed yet another CR, with spending authority now set to expire on April 28, 2017. Congressional leadership has indicated that the 115th Congress will consider appropriations for the balance of FY 2017 and for FY 2018 in the spring.

The additional time to resolve spending for FY 2017 will allow the incoming Trump Administration to shape appropriations for the final five months of the fiscal year. Both the Senate and House appropriations committees provided increases for the NEH in draft FY 2017 appropriations bills, and we will push for those increases to be included in any final legislation. However, this is the first juncture where we may see efforts from Congress and the new administration to decrease overall discretionary spending or to increase military funding at the expense of domestic spending.  Either scenario would leave less funding in FY 2017 for domestic priorities, including the humanities.

At the same time, Congress must begin developing a budget and appropriations legislation for FY 2018. Typically, an administration would submit a budget request to Congress in mid-February. Congress would hold hearings throughout the spring, introducing Congressional Budget Resolutions in mid-March, followed by draft appropriations legislation in each House, as normal. We expect this schedule to be somewhat delayed by consideration of FY 2017 appropriations and the slow pace of the presidential transition. Through this process, we will be prepared to combat any proposals to decrease funding or eliminate the NEH.

How we are preparing and how you can help

Since the election, we have been connecting with key Members of Congress and the new administration to make the case for the value of the NEH and other federal humanities programs. This has involved coordinating outreach and messaging strategies with allies, providing information to newly elected officials on how the programs support their key policy goals, and maintaining contact with appropriators and other critical Members of Congress.

We have also launched the Campaign for Humanities Funding to expand our network of advocates so that we are well-prepared to fight any attack on federal funding for the humanities. Please consider signing up and urging your colleagues and friends to sign up. We will let you know when proposals in Congress threaten the humanities and give you a simple way to contact your elected officials. You can also join us on social media (Facebook and Twitter) where you can amplify our voice at critical moments.

Finally, we are also working to ensure that our Annual Meeting and Humanities Advocacy Day on March 13 and 14 brings a record-breaking number of humanities advocates to Washington, D.C. and that all Congressional districts are represented. Humanities Advocacy Day falls at an especially critical moment this year as Congress will not only be negotiating a budget package for FY 2017 but also beginning the process for FY 2018. It is therefore crucial that Members of Congress hear from their constituents that they support humanities funding. Please consider joining us.

Over the coming weeks and months we will keep the humanities community updated on developments in Washington. At critical times like these, Members of Congress need to hear from their constituents frequently, and you are critical to our efforts to ensure that they do.

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