Editor's Note: The Senate passed the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 by a vote of 71-23 and President Trump signed it into law on Friday, December 20.
The most preservation-friendly funding bill in history is poised to pass the Senate and head to the president’s desk following House passage on Tuesday, December 17. The FY 2020 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill was wrapped into the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R. 1865) with a total of eight domestic and foreign assistance appropriations bills, as well as several other legislative provisions.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and our partners advocated for many of the funding increases and significant policy provisions included in the final funding bill. We compiled a comprehensive summary of preservation provisions with relevant congressional direction and budget tables.
Record Funding for the Historic Preservation Fund
For the third year in a row, Congress provides a new record high for the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF). The $118.66 million for the HPF is $16 million above FY2019’s record funding of $102.66 million and marks a 46% increase above the level provided just three years ago. Within this funding, state historic preservation officers (SHPOs) receive $52.675 million—a $3 million increase from FY2019—and tribal historic preservation officers (THPOs) receive $13.735 million—a $2 million increase.
In a significant development that was a focus of National Trust advocacy, the House bill expands funding for Civil Rights Grants. That funding contains $15.5 million for African American Civil Rights grants and a new $2.5 million competitive grant program for Civil Rights for All Americans, including women, American Latino, Native American, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and LGBTQ Americans. The grants for communities underrepresented on the National Register of Historic Places receives level funding of $750,000 in the final bill. The measure provides $10 million for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Grant Program, an increase of $2 million above the enacted level and equal to the fully authorized amount.
The popular and effective Save America’s Treasures grant program sees a $3 million increase to $16 million. And a relatively new program for Historic Revitalization Grants was expanded by $2.5 million and renamed in honor of the late Paul Bruhn, long-time executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont. The National Main Street Center was among the inaugural group of Historic Revitalization grant recipients announced this year, receiving $746,900 for its Main Street Façade Improvement Grant Program.
As we look to the upcoming centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment—and beyond—we encourage the preservation community to use these HPF grant programs to ensure that places where women made history are more recognized and preserved.
Increases for Preservation Programs and Agencies
In addition to the HPF, the final bill provides other increases, including for cultural programs that support management of the National Register and approval of historic tax credit projects, among other important functions. Congress also provides $1 million for work on national networks that include the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, the African American Civil Rights Network, the Reconstruction Era National Historic Network, and the World War II Heritage Cities Network.
Importantly, the bill rejects the administration’s proposal to significantly decrease funding for international park affairs, which would have limited engagement with the UNESCO World Heritage program. The bill also provides a roughly $1.5 million increase to $20.962 million for national heritage areas, for which the administration proposed no funding.
The House committee also rejected the administration’s proposal to begin shutting down the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities and instead increased each agency’s funding by $7.25 million to $162.25 million, in line with the amount recommended by the National Trust and other organizations. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation sees a boost to $7.378 million in the bill.
Focusing Investments in Our National Parks and Public Lands
The National Trust has focused appropriations advocacy for deferred maintenance within our national parks on three main National Park Service (NPS) accounts: Repair and Rehabilitation, Cyclic Maintenance, and Line-Item Construction, all of which continue to see robust investment.
For public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the final bill provides a $1.5 million increase for cultural resources management specifically to support ongoing work on the data analysis capabilities of BLM’s National Cultural Resources Information Management System (NCRIMS). The bill also increases funding for national monuments and other national conservation lands by $4 million. Earlier this year, the National Trust led a letter in coordination with the Conservation Lands Foundation, the Coalition for American Heritage, and the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers and signed by a total of 91 organizations, requesting increases for these programs.
The committee also provides $495 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), including $13 million for American Battlefield Protection Program Land Acquisition Grants. This funding would include many projects with strong historic and cultural resource components, and it marks the highest level for LWCF activities in 17 years. Notably, the consolidated bill also includes the Preserving America’s Battlefields Act, which reauthorizes and expands the American Battlefield Protection Program.
Strong Direction on National Register Regulations, Protecting Chaco Culture, and More
In the statement expressing congressional intent, Congress expressed strong concern about the NPS proposal to modify long-standing procedures to nominate properties to the National Register and urges the NPS to withdraw the proposed rule and consult with tribes and key stakeholders, including the National Trust.
Congress also directed the BLM to refrain from leasing or proposing new leases within a roughly 10-mile radius of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park prior to the completion of a new cultural resources investigation performed by Tribal cultural experts that is funded in the bill.
In addition, Congress criticizes the Department of the Interior for failing to fulfill its obligation to provide information on the ongoing reorganization and relocation of the BLM’s headquarters and reiterates strict reprogramming guidelines. The National Trust opposes the ongoing reorganization of the BLM and encouraged appropriators to exercise strong oversight of the reorganization and work to halt actions that would diminish management of cultural resources in a November 25 letter signed by the National Trust and seven other organizations.
Making the Case for Preservation Amid Uncertainty
Leading up to the Appropriations Committee action, the National Trust submitted testimony making funding recommendations for key federal preservation programs. We produced a new, comprehensive report—“The Preservation Budget: Select Preservation Priorities for FY 2020 Appropriations”—and distributed it widely on Capitol Hill and among preservation partners.
The National Trust also led or signed on to several significant letters with other organizations advocating for specific funding priorities. These letters amplified the voice of the preservation community in funding decisions regarding the HPF, cultural resources management and national monuments on public lands, and maintaining NPS engagement with world heritage sites.
The National Trust also advocated for direction from Congress to federal agencies about proposed changes to the National Register regulations, protecting the Greater Chaco landscape, and more. Bipartisan champions of preservation on Capitol Hill, including Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio), Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cassidy (R-La.) led letters advocating for the HPF and its competitive grant programs. The National Trust sincerely thanks them and their colleagues for their support.
As we celebrate the preservation victories in this bill, we will soon be gearing up for the FY 2021 appropriations process. Please consider signing up for our government relations newsletter to get updates about ongoing developments and opportunities to advocate for robust funding for preservation.
Janelle DiLuccia is the associate director of public lands policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Tom Cassidy is the vice president for government relations and policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.