On The Hill: The Coronavirus Federal Legislation and Advocacy

By Pam Bowman posted 03-24-2020 12:11


Editor's Note: As the preservation community grapples with the changes to how we do our work during this time, we at Preservation Leadership Forum here to support you. Check out our resources, and share your problems and questions with others in the preservationists community on Forum Connect. 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation continues to closely monitor legislative developments responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, and we are actively engaged in efforts to sustain and support the important work of the preservation community in the face of this unprecedented disease outbreak. We continue to stay engaged with partner organizations and our contacts on Capitol Hill as Congress considers legislation aimed at providing financial relief for the general public, nonprofit organizations, and businesses.

View of the Capitol building in Washington, DC
Credit: Architect of the Capitol

COVID-19 Legislative Response 

We understand from our friends on Capitol Hill that they remain engaged on public policy issues impacting the preservation community as they work on major legislation to address the impacts on public health, families, and the economy. Members of Congress and staff are changing how they work, even as some elected officials and their staff struggle personally with positive test results. Tours of the Capitol building and office buildings have been halted, and physical access to Hill offices has changed dramatically.

Despite the changes in the way the preservation community conducts our advocacy, Congress continues its work. In the last few weeks, Congress has considered multiple legislative proposals focused on responding to the coronavirus. The President signed two bills into law:

  • On March 6, the first emergency spending package providing approximately $8 billion for prevention and response efforts; and
  • On March 18, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) including, among other things, a provision for paid sick leave, expanded unemployment benefits, and language regarding COVID-19 testing. 

A third legislative package is pending in the Senate and continues to be negotiated. 

National Trust Advocacy

At this moment of upheaval in our nation’s history, we continue to be reminded of the significant contributions of nonprofit organizations, including preservation groups and historic sites, and the positive role they play in our communities and for our well-being. The nonprofit sector employs 12 million individuals and represents 10 percent of the United States’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with dedicated employees serving our neighborhoods and historic places offering comfort, inspiration, and education. Historic sites bring people together and they will play a big role in strengthening the nation after this crisis has passed.

In the past few weeks, the National Trust continued our collaboration with nonprofit organizations  nationwide as we collectively respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and engage our elected officials about the need to sustain the important work of the preservation community and the nonprofit sector. We developed an action alert for supporters of museums and historic sites to contact their Members of Congress and urge their support of financial relief for cultural institutions. The National Trust also joined over 190 national nonprofits calling on Congress to support an infusion of at least $60 billion for the charitable sector to help maintain operations and stabilize losses from the closures many nonprofit organizations are facing.

We are also mindful of the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on the broader economy and the potential for negatively affecting charitable contributions and other revenue that is often vital to the sustainability of historic sites and preservation organizations. Our advocacy on these matters continues. 

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act

 On Monday, March 23, the Senate continued deliberations on a third proposal to provide nearly $2 trillion in financial relief. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) includes multiple provisions aimed at providing relief to multiple sectors of the economy, financial markets, and individuals. After procedural votes this weekend and again yesterday, the Senate failed to advance the legislation, and this week federal lawmakers will continue to seek a path forward for the bill. 

Importantly, an amendment to the CARES Act (S. Amdt 1566) filed by Senator James Lankford (R-OK) would significantly strengthen incentives for charitable giving to the nonprofit sector. The underlying bill provides a partial above-the-line deduction for charitable contributions, permitting taxpayers to deduct up to $300 of cash contributions. The Lankford Amendment would improve that provision by providing an above-the-line deduction for charitable giving for up to one-third of the standard deduction ($4,000 for an individual filer and $8,000 for married joint filers) for the 2020 tax year. The National Trust endorsed this amendment along with over 1,000 nonprofits, and we mobilized the preservation community to contact their senators in support of this measure.

Making Your Voice Heard

Congress continues to consider financial relief legislation to help alleviate the impacts of  the coronavirus on our organizations and communities. The deliberations on Capitol Hill remain fluid, but one constant is the power of your voice. Please continue to share with your elected officials—at all levels of government—the valuable contributions of preservation organizations and historic sites. We expect additional legislative measures to address this rapidly evolving situation and our collective advocacy can keep our nation’s historic and cultural heritage part of the conversation.

Pam Bowman is the director of public lands policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


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