Last week, the House released a draft of the next COVID-19 relief bill that included $135 million in funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to distribute to humanities organizations facing dire impacts due to the COVID-19 crisis.
This builds on the $75 million the NEH received in the CARES Act that was ultimately distributed through grants to over 4,000 organizations nationwide, saving humanities jobs and providing crucial operating support to organizations.
However, the available funding fell far short of matching the need in the field. The NEH was only able to fund 14 percent of the applications it received for NEH CARES grants and the economic challenges that museums, libraries, historic sites, and higher ed humanities departments are facing have only grown.
While the proposed $135 million is good news, it is far from a done deal. Last Tuesday, when the House Education and Labor Committee marked-up the bill, an amendment was offered by Representative Bob Good (R-VA) to remove the funds (and the equivalent $135 for the National Endowment for the Arts) from the bill and redirect them toward “meeting the needs of rural communities’ education efforts.” In his remarks about his amendment, Rep. Good went on to state: "This committee should be putting suffering rural communities before the needs of coastal elites to subsidize the arts."
Representatives Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Takano (D-CA), Alma Adams (D-NC), and committee chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) all spoke out in opposition to the amendment. All of the Members who spoke emphasized that NEA and NEH funding reaches rural communities in all 50 states. Rep. Bonamici reminded fellow Members that the programs supported by NEA and NEH funding support jobs in rural communities. Rep. Takano spoke specifically to the 60/40 split between direct grants from the NEH and those distributed through state and territorial councils and mentioned that he had attended several NEH summer seminars for K-12 teachers when he was a teacher. Rep. Leger Fernandez stated that 1 in every 10 New Mexicans makes their living off the cultural and creative economy and that many of these New Mexicans live in rural areas and provide economic vitality to their communities. Chairman Scott noted: "More money is needed for the arts and humanities, not less."
While the amendment was defeated 28-20 along party lines, the bill still has a long way to travel before it is passed into law, and it is likely to encounter many more roadblocks like the amendment offered by Rep. Good.
Help us ensure that this $135 million makes it to humanities organizations, departments, and educators across the country by taking action today. They have an essential role to play in rebuilding the economy, revitalizing communities, and renewing our civic and democratic culture.
Read more: policy updates