On the Hill: Final FY19 Appropriations Passes, Finally; Preview of Big Wins for Public Lands

By Janelle DiLuccia posted 02-15-2019 13:07


Facing a Friday deadline—the current short-term funding bill expires today, February 15—congressional negotiators reached an agreement to address border security and finalize the remaining FY19 appropriations bills earlier this week. The House of Representatives and Senate approved the measure on Thursday, sending it to the President to be signed into law. (Update: The President has signed the bill.) 

Credit: Architect of the Capitol 

Appropriations Deal Provides Record Funding for Historic Preservation

The deal includes the final FY19 Interior appropriations bill, which reflects the bipartisan conference agreement that House and Senate appropriators negotiated late last year. Notably, the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) will receive $102.6 million, a record high for the program. Within HPF funding the bill provides: 

  • $49.6 million for state historic preservation officers—the highest level since 1979;
  • $11.7 million for tribal historic preservation officers—the highest level ever;
  • $14.5 million for competitive grants to preserve sites and stories of the Civil Rights movement, an increase of $1.5 million from FY18;
  • $8 million for preservation projects at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), an increase of $3 million over FY18;
  • $750,000 in grants to support survey and nomination of properties to the National Register of Historic Places and as National Historic Landmarks associated with underrepresented communities, an increase of $250,000 from FY18;
  • $13 million for the Save America’s Treasures program, the same as FY18; and
  • $5 million for the recently created Historic Revitalization Grants program, the same as FY18. 

Public lands funding also fared relatively well. Two National Park Service (NPS) accounts that address deferred maintenance—repair and rehabilitation and cyclic maintenance—are increasing by a total of about $11 million. Between them, those accounts are receiving about $110 million more in this bill than they did just four years ago—a 62 percent increase. And the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) will see a $10 million boost to about $435 million. The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, both of which the administration’s budget had proposed eliminating, received slight increases instead. 

With this agreement, Congress has again rejected drastic cuts proposed in the administration’s budget request and demonstrated a strong commitment to preservation programs. And, fortunately, the cycle of short-term funding bills and threat of another costly shutdown is over—at least for the remainder of the fiscal year. 

Shutdown Will Have Lasting Impacts

The five-week partial government shutdown—the longest in history—cost the economy about $3 billion that won’t be recovered according to Congressional Budget Office projections. The specific cost to historic and cultural resources may not be known for some time, but the impact will be lasting. 

With national parks and public lands closed or severely understaffed during the shutdown, historic and cultural resources faced damage and destruction, including at Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Georgia. Federal land management agencies cancelled or delayed contracts, turned away volunteers, slowed planning, and forfeited revenues. 

Of course, the shutdown’s impacts on preservation extend well beyond our parks and public lands. The many historic Main Streets that serve as gateway communities to our national parks also suffered from decreased visitation during the shutdown. Further, the NPS could not review proposed rehabilitations using historic tax credits and put many other preservation priorities on hold. 

Huge Wins for Preservation in Senate Public Lands Bill

On February 12 the Senate overwhelmingly approved a package of public lands bills (S. 47) that would greatly benefit our country’s historic and cultural resources. This legislation impacts a wide range of sites and landscapes, including permanently reauthorizing the LWCF and preserving historic resources and cultural landscapes that uplift chapters of our nation’s diverse history, including HBCUs, the Ocmulgee National Monument, and nationally significant sites associated with the Reconstruction era. 

Stay tuned for more details in upcoming blog posts, and in the meantime, join us in encouraging the House to act quickly to pass this legislation! 

Deferred Maintenance Bills Reintroduced in House and Senate

The National Trust applauded the reintroduction of the Restore Our Parks Act in the Senate and the Restore our Parks and Public Lands Act in the House on Thursday—bills that would address the deferred maintenance backlog of federal agencies. On the day of its introduction, the Senate bill had 26 supporters; the House bill had more than 90 original cosponsors. By creating a reliable federal funding source to reduce the backlog, this legislation will enable the NPS and other federal agencies to save the historic structures, landscapes, and necessary infrastructure that allow the public to safely enjoy the places that reflect our nation’s history. 

Janelle DiLuccia is the associate director of public lands policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


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