NASAA Notes: April 2016

April 7, 2016

Speak Up on the Arts

The first week in April is usually a busy period in Washington, not only because tourists flood the city to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom, but because it is without question the most active period in the appropriations season. Committees in both the House and Senate are engulfed in negotiating and passing the 12 different bills that set funding levels for each federal agency.

As 2016 began, we fully expected this April to follow in this tradition: legislation passed at the end of last year not only set funding levels for the remainder of fiscal year 2016 but established the framework for the FY2017 budget as well. Unfortunately, those high hopes appear to have been dashed. While House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) continues to be committed to completing all 12 bills, timing and considerable opposition within his caucus may make doing so impossible.

By now, we would certainly expect to have a copy of the draft appropriations bills for each federal agency, including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). That number would provide the basis for the work that we as advocates would use to design an outreach strategy to support the arts in the budget. To date, however, a draft appropriations bill for the NEA and most other federal agencies has not been released.

This has two negative effects:¬†First, it means that it is unlikely (though not impossible), that the NEA would be funded for FY2017 without Congress passing a continuing resolution (CR) extending current funding beyond September 30. In any year, the delay in getting the process started would make a CR likely, but the fact that this is a presidential election year, and that members from both parties expect to spend much of their time on the road campaigning, leaves little time to do the hard work required to complete these bills in a timely fashion. Second, it puts the arts advocacy community in a bit of a tough position when trying to communicate with members of Congress, because we don’t know yet what Congress plans for our policy priorities. The understandable response on the part of arts advocates would be to wait and hope that more information will forthcoming.

Although I understand this response, I would counter that there is still important work to be done. While Congress and the Obama administration continue to haggle over issues that are important but unrelated to support for the arts, it would be a mistake for all of us not to leverage the considerable progress we’ve made recently (an increased appropriation for the NEA and an increase in the role of the arts in education policy) by holding back our outreach to members of Congress and their staff.

In fact, this slow period is a great time for such communication, because staffers who normally would be very busy at this time of year may have more time to meet or talk by phone. Therefore, I encourage all of you to reach out to your member of Congress and their staff and make the following points:

  • Thank them for the great support we received last year, including increasing the NEA’s budget by $2 million and expanding support for the arts in public education.
  • Urge the member to support an even greater level of funding for the NEA, to $155 million. (Current funding is $148 million.)
  • Let the member and/or staff know about interesting work you are undertaking at your agency, and remind them that 40% of grant dollars allocated to the NEA go directly to state arts agencies and regional arts organizations.
  • If you have an exciting event coming up, invite the member and a member of their staff to attend. This is a great way to build rapport with that office.

Remember that the dynamic in Congress can change quickly, so any work you do now to make these points will pay dividends later. We saw last year that our committed and directed advocacy was rewarded.

In this Issue

State to State

Legislative Update

More Notes from NASAA

From the CEO

Research on Demand

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