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Congress Considers Level Funding for NEA

It’s been a fast-paced appropriations season so far! On June 16, the U.S. Senate approved legislation (for the first time in six years!) in subcommittee to level fund the National Endowment for the Arts.The U.S. House also kept its pace for rapid consideration, approving its NEA funding bill in full committee today as well. Tomorrow, the bill that funds the federal museum agency and arts education is on tap for consideration (first time in three years!) in another House subcommittee. And on Thursday, the Senate returns to consider its bill to fund the NEA in full committee.Despite the substantial effort in Congress to advance bills in a timely way, the Administration last night issued a veto threat to the bill because of its numerous policy riders, thwarting any expected advancement.

What you need to know

Last week, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee approved a bill providing sustained funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. All the cultural institutions, like the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Smithsonian Institution, also were proposed at level funding.

June 16, the full committee reported out this legislation on a 30-21 vote, enabling it to next be considered on the House floor.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) offering amendment to increase funding for NEA by $2 million to full committee
Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) offers amendment to increase funding for NEA by $2 million to full committee

During full committee consideration, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) offered an amendment to boost funding for both the NEA and the NEH to the President’s request. This is roughly a $2 million increase to $148 million. Although his amendment did not receive a vote, Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), David Price (D-NC), and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) all spoke favorably on his amendment. Rep. Pingree noted the work of the Maine Humanities Council in her district; Rep. Israel spoke about Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families, a publication of the NEA. A writer himself, Rep. Israel shared his interest to scale up healing arts therapy work with veterans going forward and in more areas across the country. Rep. Price shared with his colleagues another publication, the Heart of the Matter, tucking it in also as recommended reading. Rep. Price also shared with all appropriators that NEA and NEH are funded well below their historical levels. He compared funds to 1992 and said with just inflation, we’d be investing nearly double had we just retained those levels. You can watch the June 16 proceedings at this webcast link, in which Rep. Israel’s amendment can be found at the 2:57 timestamp.

The Senate subcommittee also considered their version on June 16. Both NEA and NEH are also proposed for level funding. The subcommittee’s statement can be found here. The full committee considered the bill June 16.

What’s next

House floor votes could occur as soon as the last week in June, prior to the 4th of July congressional recess. As the process moves forward, the NEA and other cultural agencies may be prime targets for proposed cuts, if history is any lesson. We will keep you posted on any harmful amendments as the bills head toward the House or Senate floor.

Help us continue this important work by becoming an official member of the Arts Action Fund. If you are not already a member, you can play your part by joining the Arts Action Fund today—it’s free and easy to join.

Thank you for your support of the arts!


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Editor’s Note: Yesterday we sent a message to Oregon House Representative Greg Walden via an ArtsUSA petition. It began with the petition text written by ArtsUSA advocates, but we wanted to add more. We hope you will also send your own message to our representatives about why level or increased funding for NEA programs—which fund Oregon state arts programs—before Congress votes on the proposed budget next week. Feel free to copy ours (below) if it resonates with you. We received a message back from Rep. Walden this morning indicating that he will keep our priorities in mind throughout the budget and appropriations process, but if he needs to hear from more of us. In his words, “At the end of the day, it’s your money that we’re talking about—you ought to have a say in how it’s being spent.” If hears from many, many more of us, we may actually get a $2 million increase in funding as proposed by Rep. Steve Israel of New York last week, but you need to know that continued efforts to cut funding to the National Endowment completely are still threatening this agency so vital to arts funding across the country and in our own home state.
“As your constituent, I urge you to increase or support a budget of $146 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the FY 2016 Interior Appropriations bill to preserve citizen access to the cultural, educational, and economic benefits of the arts and to advance creativity and innovation here at home.

The arts mean jobs for our district! The nonprofit arts industry generates $135.2 billion annually in economic activity, supports 4.13 million full-time equivalent jobs in the arts and related industries, and returns $9.59 billion in federal income taxes.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the NEA announced the latest figures on the arts and cultural sector’s contributions to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), proving that the arts are a significant part of the GDP. Arts and culture activity produced $698.7 billion in goods and services annually or 4.32% of GDP – more than both the construction or transportation sectors.

Grants through the NEA are widely distributed to strengthen arts infrastructures and to ensure broad access to the arts. The NEA makes grants in every congressional district. Furthermore, the NEA distributes 40 percent of its program dollars to state arts agencies, on the condition that each state devotes its own appropriated funds as well. In partnership with the NEA, state arts agencies have awarded 22,000 grants to more than 18,300 organizations, schools, and artists in nearly 4,800 communities across the United States.

With funding for the arts having been cut from most of our schools, I am very concerned that our children are not getting enough exposure to the arts to help them achieve their goals and become productive member of society. I heard a parent recently tell me that her son, who is studying a pre-med curriculum in high school, was having trouble getting decent grades in biology classes because he couldn’t draw an accurate line drawing of an anatomical feature! That’s of grave concern, and this example makes a case for supporting availability and access to the arts outside of the school system. The NEA improves access to the arts, supports artistic excellence and fosters lifelong learning through grants, partnerships, research and national initiatives. The current level funding of $146 million amounts to just 45 cents per capita, as compared to 70 cents per capita in 1992. I am counting on you as my Representative to support at least level funding of $146 million for the NEA.

On a side note, I urge you to support the NEA’s STEAM educational model for our schools. This would add steam to the STEM program and improve student’s ability to learn, retain, and effectively apply information in a broad range of subjects by incorporating the arts into the curriculum. A society that does not value the arts beyond pretty pictures on the walls is NOT a world I want to live in! Numerous studies have proven that including the arts in education does far more than teach kids how to draw or paint or play the piano, but results in important enhancements to executive function and neurological development during a child’s formative and educational years, not to mention creative/collaborative problem solving (and oh do we need more people with those abilities active in our society!), and the fact that high school students with four years of art classes average 100 points higher on their SAT scores than those whose studies included one semester or less of art. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the many ways art can contribute tangibly to our lives. We should respect the truth these studies have discovered and give our kids every opportunity possible to excel in school and in their professional lives after school by reintroducing funding for the arts in education. It is deeply troubling, embarrassing and a poor reflection on the priorities of our society that they were ever cut to begin with.

Approving level funding for the NEA right now is a healthy start. Please commit to continuing funding for the NEA right now, and make it a part of your fight for preserving the quality of life in our country and our ability to complete on the global stage with creative innovations and solutions that only come when kids learn how to think creatively and effectively express their ideas by increasing the NEA’s funding from flat to being up-to-date with the increases in inflation and on par with historical levels at a minimum, and restoring funding for the arts in our schools.”

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