House Appropriators Approve NEA at $135 Million in FY2012; Committee Honors 40% Share to States

House Appropriators Approve NEA at $135 Million in FY2012
Committee Honors 40% Share to States

July 13, 2011
From: Thomas L. Birch, Legislative Counsel
Vol. 21:11

The House Appropriations Committee late last night (July 12) approved the fiscal year 2012 Interior Appropriations Bill drafted by the Interior Subcommittee last week, setting spending for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) at $135 million, $20 million below current 2011 funding. The NEA total appropriation at $135 million allocates $46 million to states from total program funds of $108.2 million. The proposed state funding represents a loss of $3.85 million from 2011 support.

The Committee rejected the administration’s budget proposal to exempt the Our Town initiative from the 40% share of program dollars required for allocation to the states. Direct grants for program funds total $62.2 million, including $2 million for Our Town (down from $5 million proposed by the administration as a separate program line).

The Committee’s report accompanying the appropriations bill states, “The Committee is particularly concerned that funding for this program [Our Town] would gravitate toward large urban centers with strong existing arts infrastructures at the expense of State Arts Agencies [SAAs] which are better positioned to reach underserved populations. This precedent could undermine support not only for SAAs but for the NEA more broadly.”

The report goes on to praise the NEA-SAA “long-standing collaborative relationship” as a “widely supported successful model” which “the Committee values greatly.” The report explains that the allocation to the states of 40% of NEA program funds was established by Congress in 1997 “because they [state arts agencies] understand community priorities and are accessible to local arts organizations.” Indeed, Our Town is viewed in the report as more properly aligned with the goals of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Special mention is made of the Big Read, to be funded at $3 million, and Shakespeare in American Communities, at $2 million, both of which the Committee cites “among the most cost-effective grant programs with broad, bipartisan congressional support” meeting the NEA’s goals of “extending the arts to underserved populations in both urban and rural communities across the United States.”

The Committee rejected the administration’s proposal to eliminate the National Heritage and Jazz Masters awards with the direction that the NEA “continue these popular honorific fellowships in the same manner as it has in the past.” The proposed American Artist of the Year award was similarly rejected as “an attempt to circumvent clear, long-established congressional guidelines” prohibiting direct grants to individual artists.

The Committee did not include legislative changes proposed by the administration on clarifying state match and waiver of match provisions for states and regions. According to the Committee’s report, the proposals are viewed as “generally reasonable and desirable, provided some flexibility is provided to the States,” but they “should not be adopted without the full consultation and active participation of State Arts Agencies. Anything less would result in a Federal mandate that could, in some instances, prove difficult for States in the future. Therefore, the Committee directs the NEA to engage in a collaborative process, building upon its longstanding partnership with diverse State Arts Agencies, to fashion clarifying bill language for consideration by the Committee addressing matching requirements and waiver procedures.”

The NEA’s administrative funds, which, according to the Committee report, have risen by 17% since 2008, would be reduced by almost 9% over current budget. The administration had requested a 2% increase in administrative support. The Appropriations Committee also “urges” the NEA to cap full-time employees in 2012 at the 2008 level of 155, a cut from current numbers.

The Interior Appropriations Bill could go to the House floor as early as next week, although no date has been set for floor action. Similarly, no time has been announced for the Senate Appropriations Committee to begin formal work on drafting its version of the legislation.

NASAA will keep you informed as the process continues. Thank you for your advocacy support in the development of 2012 appropriations for the NEA.