NASAA Notes: July 2010


Thomas L. Birch Headshot

Thomas L. Birch

July issue
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July 13, 2010

Congress Lags in Budget Process; Advocacy Opportunities in HUD Initiative; Bill Would Strengthen Nonprofits

Congress Lags in 2011 Budget Process

Congress has very little enthusiasm for taking up appropriations bills this year, and the process may hold over into a lame duck session after the November elections, when all seats in the House of Representatives and one-third of those in the Senate are on the ballot. Neither the House nor the Senate has brought forward a budget resolution setting out a blueprint for moving forward with the fiscal year 2011 funding bills.

Instead, both chambers appear ready to enact a special alternative budget measure that includes a “deeming” resolution to set FY2011 spending levels. With that in place, the appropriations subcommittees can move ahead in drafting their funding bills within the parameters of their spending allocations. The one-year budget plan would cut about $7 billion in discretionary spending for the next fiscal year, setting funding levels below those proposed by President Obama that would freeze funds at the 2010 levels.

In fact, the president’s budget for 2011 proposes a cut from current National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) appropriations of $167.5 million to $161 million in the coming year. Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), the new chair of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, a long-time advocate for federal arts support whose subcommittee has jurisdiction over the arts funding, has indicated a desire to provide some measure of increase for the NEA budget and at the least not to go below current spending levels. House Democrats have been unable to come to agreement on the usual five-year budget plan this year because of disagreements between fiscal conservatives and progressives within the party caucus over how to approach discretionary spending, which includes the NEA budget.

Advocacy Opportunities in HUD Partnerships

The announcement of new grant funding available from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program—with partnership opportunities for state arts agencies and arts organizations—offers significant advocacy opportunities for state arts agencies to demonstrate to legislators, governors, mayors and other local elected officials the important role the arts can play in plans for economic development. (See this month’s Announcements and Resources column for more on the new HUD program.)

HUD has given state arts agencies a strong card to play at the public policy table in identifying arts organizations as essential players in planning for economic development at the state and local levels. This new funding announcement not only opens the door to a new arena for federal support of arts initiatives, it also provides a strong platform for advocacy in demonstrating the value of the arts in economic development schemes. By placing a priority on funding partnerships that include the arts, HUD’s Sustainable Communities Program signals the advocacy message that the arts are an essential part of the solution in moving communities forward—a message which would not be lost on state legislators.

Bill Aims to Strengthen Nonprofit Sector

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) has introduced legislation—the Nonprofit Sector and Community Solutions Act of 2010 (H.R. 5533)—designed to provide a vehicle to study how nonprofit organizations and the federal government can work together more effectively and gather comprehensive data about the work of the nonprofit community. Among other provisions, the bill would:

  • establish a U.S. council on nonprofit organizations and community solutions to advise the president and Congress about how the federal government can work more effectively with nonprofits, to study the relationship between nonprofits and government (including government contracting) and the role of nonprofits in the U.S. economy, and to identify ways to eliminate barriers that inhibit the work of nonprofits;
  • create a federal interagency working group on nonprofit organizations and the federal government to coordinate administrative policies regarding contracting and managing relationships with nonprofits. The working group would include secretaries of each cabinet agency as well as commissioners and directors of key agencies that interact with nonprofits, such as the IRS commissioner, the director of the Census Bureau, and the chairs of the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities;
  • charge the Department of Commerce with gathering data from other federal agencies on nonprofit employment, federal funding of nonprofits, nonprofit revenues, clients served by nonprofits and the financial health of nonprofits;
  • require federal agencies to increase collection of data on nonprofits, with $5 million going to the National Science Foundation for research grants to the nonprofit sector.

Keep abreast of current congressional news and federal legislative updates, and be sure to take advantage of NASAA’s arts advocacy tools and services.