Last week President Donald Trump released the full details of his FY20 budget request, proposing drastic reductions in domestic discretionary spending—including cuts to key preservation programs that impact every state and congressional district in the country. These cuts would stand in sharp contrast to the funding provided in the FY19 Interior appropriations bill signed into law just more than a month ago. The bill provided a record $102.6 million for the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) and strong funding levels for related programs.
The president’s budget proposal has already received pushback from some members of Congress—and, ultimately, it is Congress that is responsible for crafting spending bills. Although these drastic cuts are not expected to become law, the request is a statement of president Trump’s priorities and the starting point for the appropriations process. As Congress works through that process, members need to hear from the preservation community about why the programs that matter to us should matter to them.
Nearly 70 Percent Cut Proposed for the HPF
The president has proposed just $32.7 million for the HPF—a 68 percent cut for the account that funds vital preservation programs including those implemented by state and tribal historic preservation offices. State historic preservation officers (SHPOs) and tribal historic preservation officers (THPOs) perform essential functions like reviewing federal historic tax credit (HTC) projects, identifying historic and cultural resources, and reviewing federal projects to assess impacts and determine ways to mitigate adverse effects.
The $22 million cut proposed for SHPOs—from $48.9 million in FY19 to $26.9 million—would take programs back to levels not seen since 1990. The $5.7 million proposed for THPOs in FY20—a $6 million cut from the $11.7 million provided in FY19—would bring THPO funding to the lowest level since 2007, when there were only 66 federally recognized THPOs compared with nearly 200 today.
The president’s budget would also eliminate all funding for HPF competitive grant programs, including:
- Save America’s Treasures;
- Preservation grants for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs);
- African American Civil Rights grants;
- Underrepresented Community Grants to increase the diversity and inclusiveness of the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks; and
- Historic Revitalization Grants.
These competitive grant programs help save places that tell diverse stories of our nation and strengthen our communities. The African American Civil Rights grant program has helped preserve sites such as the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The Underrepresented Community Grant Program has funded planning efforts to identify sites associated with women’s suffrage in Maryland. The HBCU grant program is helping improve accessibility while preserving the historic fabric of the Founders Library at Howard University. And the Save America’s Treasures program has conserved iconic places and irreplaceable items like the Star-Spangled Banner.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is working hard to educate Congress about the need to increase funding and build on the tremendous successes of the HPF.
National Park Service Deferred Maintenance Would Remain a Focus
In the president’s budget, the three National Park Service (NPS) accounts that most directly address the deferred maintenance backlog would stay relatively level. A $13 million increase from $147 million in FY19 to $160.7 million in FY20—one of the few increases in the request—would go to line-item construction within the NPS to fund major maintenance projects that cost $1 million or more. The repair and rehabilitation account, which funds large-scale nonrecurring needs of less than $1 million, would receive $132 million in the president’s budget, down slightly from FY19. The budget proposes a reduction from $151.5 million in FY19 to $134 million for the cyclic maintenance account, which funds periodically scheduled upkeep and repairs.
President Trump’s budget request also proposes a $6.5 billion fund dedicated to abating the maintenance backlog of the NPS and other federal agencies. The National Trust continues to closely collaborate with the administration, key partners, and congressional leaders in both the House and Senate to ensure that the Restore Our Parks Act (S. 500) and Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (H.R. 1225) continue their strong momentum in this Congress. Join us in urging Congress to support dedicated funding to reduce the maintenance backlog in our national parks!
Other NPS Accounts Would Be Slated for Steep Cuts
The president’s budget would all but eliminate funding to support National Heritage Areas (NHAs), which received about $20 million in FY19, despite the recently enacted public lands package (P.L. 116-9) that created six new NHAs.
The NPS Cultural Programs account would be restructured slightly and would receive $19.4 million—a net cut of roughly 30 percent from FY19. This account supports management of the National Register, certification of federal HTC projects, coordination of federal archaeology programs, and more. The budget also proposes eliminating funding for Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Grants in FY20, as well as Japanese American Confinement Site Grants.
For International Park Affairs, which includes the office responsible for shepherding World Heritage sites through the nomination process, the president’s budget proposal would reduce funding by about 40 percent to just $975,000 and focus primarily on parks and programs along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bureau of Land Management Cultural Resources Funding Would Decrease Slightly
The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Cultural Resources Management program would receive $15.6 million in the president’s FY20 budget, down about $1.5 million from FY19. This small portion of the BLM’s budget supports inventory, protection, and stabilization of cultural resources on public lands, as well as compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act for land-use proposals.
Land and Water Conservation Fund Would Effectively Be De-Funded
The president’s budget requests next to nothing for new projects from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), while calling for a cancellation of certain remaining balances from prior years. In effect, the budget requests negative $23.45 million for LWCF. This proposal is particularly stark compared with the $435 million provided in FY19 and an overwhelming vote in both chambers of Congress for legislation to permanently reauthorize the LWCF.
Arts and Humanities Agencies Are Proposed for Elimination
The president’s budget once again proposes to phase out federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH). Although each of these agencies received $155 million in FY19, the budget proposes just $29 million for NEA and $38 million for NEH to begin shutting down each agency in FY20. These programs support our cultural heritage, including the efforts of communities around the country to tell a fuller American story and introduce people to history in compelling ways.
The budget also proposes eliminating the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which provides formula and competitive grant funding to museums and libraries nationwide. The institute would receive just $23 million in FY20 compared with the $242 million provided by Congress in FY19.
Make Your Voice Heard
The National Trust has new resources to help the preservation community advocate on a federal level:
The National Trust will work with Congress to ensure that key preservation programs receive the necessary funding to fulfill their missions. The nation’s preservation programs are essential to maintaining our historic communities as engines of economic revitalization and continuing to identify and protect the places that tell the stories of all Americans.
Janelle DiLuccia is the associate director of public lands policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.