Earlier today, Congress approved an omnibus appropriations package to fund the government for the remaining five months of FY 2017. This bill includes several significant victories for the humanities community.
The bill provides $149.8 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. This reflects a $2 million increase over FY 2016 and the second consecutive increase for the NEH and NEA.
The bill also provides increases for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Library of Congress.
Particularly noteworthy is level funding for Title VI and Fulbright-Hays despite draft legislation in the Senate last summer that proposed slashing funding for Fulbright-Hays. You can view a detailed funding chart here.
These successes are a testament to the steadfast efforts of the humanities community, which included scores of op-eds and letters to the editor, hundreds of Humanities Advocacy Day visits, and more than 150,000 messages and thousands of phone calls to Capitol Hill offices in support of the NEH since January.
But the omnibus appropriations package has also caused some confusion about the ongoing threats to the NEH.
Some news outlets have framed the FY 2017 package as Congress rejecting Trump’s proposal to eliminate the NEH, NEA, IMLS, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting. That is not the case. Trump’s budget blueprint, released in March, proposed eliminating funding for all of these programs for FY 2018, and Congress is just beginning (not concluding) the Budget and Appropriations process for FY 2018.
While the support the NEH and other humanities funding received for FY 2017 is encouraging, the dynamics surrounding the FY 2018 appropriations process are likely to be different than the final negotiations over FY 2017. The Trump Administration has sought to influence this process from the beginning, and Members of Congress will be under increased pressure to follow through on the President’s agenda.
In addition, the fiscal environment for FY 2018 could be much more constrained than last year. The budget caps for FY 2018 are currently lower than for FY 2017, and new administration funding priorities, including increased spending for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, threaten to divert scarce funding from domestic priorities. In this type of fiscal environment, appropriators may be required to choose how to allocate cuts—even deep ones—among programs they support.
With FY 2017 appropriations now behind us, our attention turns fully to FY 2018. It is crucial that all Members of Congress continue to hear from their constituents as efforts to defund the NEH and other humanities programs could gain traction at any step in the process.
In addition to contacting your Members of Congress, there are many other ways to take action in support of the NEH, IMLS, Title VI/Fulbright-Hays, and the humanities more generally. Please visit our Take Action page for several options.
And note the lesson from FY 2017: when constituents speak out, Members of Congress can be convinced that humanities funding is essential.