Humanists Take the Hill

Last week, more than 200 humanists gathered for the NHA Annual Meeting and Humanities Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. This event brings together humanities faculty, administrators, and professionals from scholarly societies, museums, and libraries to explore best practices in humanities advocacy and to advocate on Capitol Hill for federally funded humanities programs.

Monday began with an opening panel, made up of NHA board members, that discussed the Pew poll released in 2017 that revealed a growing, partisan distrust of higher education. After interpreting these findings and considering how the humanities are implicated in this distrust, the panelists considered the role humanities can play in rebuilding public trust in higher education.

Attendees then had the opportunity to attend breakout sessions that covered a range of topics from training for new advocates to increasing the local visibility of humanities grants and projects. Three of the breakout sessions showcased some of our current initiatives: Study the Humanities, a resource for those who make the case for majoring in the humanities; NEH for All, a project to highlight the impact of the NEH across the country by showcasing outstanding NEH grantees; and Humanities for All, a national survey of publicly engaged humanities projects based at higher ed institutions. NEH Senior Deputy Director and nominee to be the next chairman of the NEH Jon Parrish Peede, delivered the luncheon address on the formative role the humanities played in his own life and his vision for the NEH.


At the Capitol Hill Reception Monday evening, we honored Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Representative Leonard Lance (R-NJ) with the Sidney R. Yates Award for their continued leadership and support of the humanities.

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On Tuesday, adorned with NEH for All buttons and equipped with funding requests, 161 advocates from across the country took to Capitol Hill to make the case for federal funding for the NEH, IMLS, NHPRC, and Title VI and Fulbright-Hays in 257 meetings. Despite the Trump Administration's continued call for the elimination of these programs, advocates reported a high level of support among Members of Congress and their staff. This support has resulted in 166 signers, including 19 Republicans, for the House Dear Colleague Letters requesting increased funding for the NEH. This is an increase over last year's 144 signers, including 12 Republicans.

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Throughout the day, advocates took to social media to share photos and thank Members of Congress for their support.

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Thank you to all of our attendees and advocates for making the Annual Meeting and Humanities Advocacy Day such a success! We look forward to seeing you next year!


Time to #SavetheNEH again!

This morning, President Trump released his Presidential Budget Request, which again calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities, along with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Education’s International Education Programs, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the Institute for Museums and Library Services, and the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.

This is an assault on a wide range of humanities programs that support research, teaching, museums, libraries, documentary film, and the preservation of cultural heritage. These programs are essential to a healthy civic culture and bridging divides in our communities.

Our attention now turns to Congress, which has the ability to fund these programs despite the administration’s proposals.


A Budget Proposal is Just a Proposal

The Presidential Budget Request is fundamentally advisory. The House and Senate will now begin their own budget and appropriations processes for FY 2019. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will ultimately draft legislation that sets funding levels for the NEH and all other federal funding streams.

Last year’s process was instructive: After the administration requested just $42 million for the NEH (the amount required for the orderly shutdown of the agency) Congress rejected the proposals. The Senate bill for FY 2018 provided $149.8 million for the NEH, which reflected level funding from FY 2017. The House bill provided $145 million, a small decrease that was proportional to cuts to other domestic priorities.

An agreement on final funding for FY 2018 has not yet been reached, but the likelihood that the appropriations process will soon be completed increased last week when Congress struck a deal to raise budget caps for FY 2018 and FY 2019. The House and Senate are now working to craft an omnibus appropriations bill that will finalize all funding levels for FY 2018. We are optimistic that with the proposed levels and the increased budget caps, humanities programs will receive at least level funding when the FY 2018 bill is finalized.

Consistent with the administration’s FY 2018 request, the FY 2019 budget request proposes the small amounts of funding required for the orderly shutdown of independent agencies, such as the NEH, NEA, and IMLS, and the immediate elimination of funding for Title VI and Fulbright-Hays.


Defeating the Trump Proposal Again

To ensure that we defeat Trump’s proposals for FY 2019, we need to yet again send a forceful message to Congress that we oppose the president’s proposal and appreciate Congress’ ongoing support.

Click here to send a message to Congress on behalf of NEH!

Click here to take action on other humanities programs!

Want to do more? Join us in March for Humanities Advocacy Day in March when advocates from around the country will meet with their Members of Congress on Capitol Hill to make the case for federal funding for the humanities!

Update on Passage of the Tax Bill

With votes in the Senate last night and in the House this afternoon, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has passed through Congress and will now go to the President's desk to be signed into law. The final bill did NOT include the provision from the House version that would have designated tuition waivers for graduate students as taxable income. Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of graduate studies over the last few weeks; your voices were critical to ensuring that these waivers did not make it into the final bill.

Senate Passes Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Earlier today, the Senate passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Given that the House passed its version of the tax bill on November 16, the House and Senate will now choose members for a conference committee to reconcile the two versions of the bill.

The House bill contains a provision that would make tuition waivers for graduate students subject to income tax, increasing the tax liability of hundreds of thousands of graduate students. The Senate bill does not include that provision.

It is imperative that we urge the conferees to reject that House provision in the final bill.

Please click here to take action and encourage others to do so via social media.

This is now a high-profile issue, with coverage in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Vox. While we expect the conference committee to play an outsized role in the negotiations, it is important that as many legislators as possible hear from their constituents on this issue.

We expect conferees to be announced next week. Once they are, we will let you know who they are as soon as possible and reach out to our advocates in those key districts and states. Please stay tuned!

We will continue to keep you updated as the bill progresses. Thank you for your support.

Click here to contact your Members of Congress now.


Senate Appropriations Committee Strongly Supports Humanities Funding

Yesterday afternoon, the Senate Appropriations Committee released two bills that propose boosts or level funding for a variety of humanities programs. The 2018 bill funding the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies included appropriations for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, both of which were funded at $149.8. This is the same funding level the NEH and the NEA received for FY 2017, and it represents a forceful rejection of the administration’s call to eliminate the agencies.

In introducing the Interior bill, Ranking Member Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) thanked Chairman Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) for working “with me and other members on both sides of the aisle to reject the president’s disastrous proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities and maintain level funding for each of the endowments.”   

The House passed an appropriations bill in September that also rejected the administration’s proposal to eliminate funding for the NEH and provided $145 million for FY 2018. Once the Senate passes the appropriations bill, the House and Senate will have to reconcile the two numbers. Given the support we have heard from House appropriators in recent months, we are hopeful that the higher number will win out.

The Senate Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill held more good news for the humanities. It included level funding for the Woodrow Wilson Center ($10.5 million) whereas the House appropriations bill approved $10 million.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also released the Financial Services and General Government bill, which included $6 million for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the same amount as FY 2017 and an improvement from the House bill’s $4 million. It is heartening to see the Senate committee not only reject the administration’s call to eliminate funding for the NHPRC but also the House’s more modest proposal.

Click here for a full funding chart.

The government is currently operating under a continuing resolution, which funds the government at FY 2017 levels and is set to expire on December 8th. In the coming weeks, we will see whether Congress can reach an agreement on overall spending levels or whether we will see another continuing resolution. We will keep you updated on the progress and let you know when your voice can make a difference.

Thank you for your tremendous advocacy this year!


Update: House Passes Tax Bill with Clause that Taxes Waived Tuition

This afternoon, the House passed a tax bill with a vote of 227-205, with 13 Republicans breaking ranks to vote against it. The bill that passed included a clause that would make tuition waivers for graduate students subject to income tax. This would significantly increase the tax liability of hundreds of thousands of graduate students.

The Senate tax bill is still under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee, and it does not include a provision that would make tuition waivers taxable.

At this point, we must ensure that the Senate bill does not change in this regard. Passage of the Senate bill appears somewhat less likely since a key Senator indicated that he would vote against the bill and the Finance Committee added the removal of the ACA individual mandate to the draft. Nonetheless, if the Senate does pass its own tax bill in the coming weeks, we must work to keep the House’s tuition waiver tax provision out of the final bill. We will continue to keep you updated and let you know when urgent action is needed.


UPDATE: Senate Tax Bill Does Not Tax Waived Tuition

Last week, the Senate released its tax bill, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Unlike the House bill, the Senate’s version would allow the current exemption for graduate students’ waived tuition to continue. While this is welcome news, as the House and Senate strive to pass final bills before the December recess, the House provision could still prevail when they reconcile their bills.

The House bill passed out of the Ways and Means Committee last Thursday and is now under consideration in the House Rules Committee. It is expected to reach the House floor for consideration later today, with a floor vote projected for Thursday. While the bill has been amended as it has moved through committee, the provision to tax graduate student tuition waivers remains.  

The Senate bill is still under consideration in the Senate Finance Committee. A new list of amendments—including one that would repeal the Obamacare individual mandate—were introduced on Tuesday afternoon. Democrats on the Finance Committee are now calling for extended time to review the amendments and Republicans are looking to move the bill forward quickly. The committee is taking up the bill again this morning. The Affordable Care Act individual mandate repeal will likely be the focus of debate, with tax code-specific topics taking a backseat.

It is still crucial to take action to oppose the House effort to raise the tax burden on graduate students—who already struggle to make ends meet.

Click here to take action to oppose the provision in the House bill that would make graduate school unaffordable to many by significantly raising students’ tax liabilities.




Tax Cuts Paid for by Taxing Graduate Student Tuition Waivers

On Thursday, the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee released the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” Among many provisions that would affect higher education, the current draft of the bill would make tuition waivers for graduate students subject to income tax, increasing the tax liability of hundreds of thousands of graduate students.

Specifically, the bill amends Section 414(t)(2) of the tax code by striking section 117(d), which directs that “gross income shall not include any qualified tuition reduction.” In 117(d)(5), the current tax code specifically defines tuition waivers for graduate students engaged in teaching and research as “qualified tuition reductions,” and therefore not taxable.

This additional tax burden would cut into the modest stipends with which many graduate students already struggle to make ends meet.

The Ways and Means Committee is marking up the bill this week, with both Democratic and Republican committee members offering amendments. A few amendments have already been made. With Congress aiming to pass this bill by Thanksgiving, it is urgent to speak out now against this provision.

Click here to send urge Congress to oppose this provision.

Meet Acting NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with the new Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Jon Parrish Peede. Our conversation was the latest installment of NHA’s Between Two Bookshelves conference call series, which offers a brief, deep dive into Washington-based humanities policy for NHA members.

We covered a wide-range of topics during the call, including Peede’s formative experiences with two of his mentors: former NEH Chair Bill Ferris, under whom he studied at the University of Mississippi’s program in Southern Studies and former NEA Chair Dana Gioia, whom he met as a young editor at Mercer University Press. Ferris remained an important force in Peede’s career, pausing from his outreach to Members of Congress after his appointment as NEH Chair by President Clinton to help Peede get the job at Mercer. Gioia later invited Peede to join him as senior advisor and speech writer at the NEA. After serving under Chairman Gioia for more than six years, Peede was asked to remain at the agency by the Obama Administration’s transition team. He continued to serve the agency for two more years.

During the call, I asked Peede about formative humanities experiences and his vision for the role of the NEH and the humanities in our national life. Among many interesting answers, Peede talked about interviewing John Hope Franklin and Will Campbell. Peede also envisions the NEH as “a catalytic funder” that can help generate “institutional buy-in” and help to launch “new areas of the humanities.” He sees the humanities playing a central role in our national life: “We often live in a bifurcated society with those who are engaged in their communities and the world and those who are not, and humanities are a path toward that engagement.”

Click here to give a listen to the full interview.

Current State of Play for Humanities Funding

The FY 2018 appropriations process continues to wind on, with the House much farther ahead than the Senate in passing appropriations bills. Humanities advocates have taken action at several critical moments, urging Congress to allocate robust funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities and other humanities programs.  

House Passes Omnibus Spending Bill

This advocacy paid off on September 14, when the House passed an omnibus spending bill (H.R. 3354), which encompassed all 12 appropriations bills and almost completely rejected the President’s proposed defunding of humanities programs. Under Division A - the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, the National Endowment for the Humanities received $145 million in funding. While this is a nearly $5 million decrease from FY 2017 levels, it is fairly proportional to the reductions applied to other agencies to conform to the tight FY 2018 budget caps.  

Division F of the bill – the Department of Labor, Health, and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act - provided $231 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and $65 million for Title VI International Education Programs, which represented level funding for both. In the most significant loss for humanities funding - and despite a robust push from advocates - the bill did not include any funding for the Fulbright-Hays program.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission, meanwhile, was funded at the $4 million level under Division D – the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act (representing a $2 million decrease), and the Library of Congress received $697 million under Division J, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act (representing a $6.9 million increase from FY 2017).

We were pleased to see these reasonable funding levels in the House bill overall, but were still very disappointed to see the Fulbright-Hays program left unfunded. Representative David Price did offer an amendment to restore the program’s $7 million in funding, but the Rules Committee did not allow the amendment to be considered on the floor. Fortunately, the Senate appropriations bill included level funding for Fulbright-Hays, and we will push to see this amount win out when the appropriations bills reach conference.

Senate Funding Bills

In general, the Senate funding bills have not made it to the Senate floor. The Legislative Branch Appropriations Act of 2018 (S. 1648) passed out of committee, funding the Library of Congress at $688 million. The Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (S. 1771) passed out of committee with a modest increase for IMLS and level funding for Title VI as well as Fulbright-Hays. The Senate is expected to begin drafting the remaining appropriations bills, including the Interior and Environment bill under which the NEH is funded, in late September or early October. We will keep you updated on the Senate’s progress.

Click here for a full funding chart.

Next Steps

Regardless of what appropriations bills are passed, however, no new funding levels will take effect unless a budget resolution, which determines overall discretionary spending levels, is agreed to. Budget resolutions are generally passed in the spring, but the House Budget Committee did not refer a budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 71) for consideration on the House floor until July. This resolution, which has not yet been voted on, significantly raised spending caps through 2027, which will likely help to alleviate some of the pressure on House and Senate appropriators to cut spending to conform with the current low budget caps. If these new spending caps are passed, we might even see increases for humanities funding in FY 2018.

Nonetheless, we are not likely to see fast movement on either the budget resolution or appropriations bills, as Congress passed a continuing resolution (H.R. 601) on September 7, which extended current funding levels through December 8, 2017. This allowed Congress more time to pass a budget resolution and complete its appropriations work. If Congress does not accomplish these goals by December, we are likely to see another continuing resolution, funding the government at relatively similar levels to those of FY 2017.