Preservation Community Outlines Priorities to Congress During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Pam Bowman posted 04-30-2020 14:43


Many of us are approaching the two-month mark of a new way of living, working, and responding to the lifestyle and economic conditions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Nonprofit organizations and others continue to operate in a state of economic crisis due to the loss of revenue from closures, event cancellations, and a decline of charitable contributions. The preservation and arts and culture sectors are defining this impact with research and data from their networks and the findings are staggering:

  • A survey conducted by Main Street America assessed the impact of the coronavirus on small businesses across the United States. The report notes that of the nation’s approximately 30 million small businesses, nearly 7.5 million may be at risk of closing permanently over the coming five months, 3.5 million are at risk of closure in the next two months, and approximately 35.7 million Americans employed by small businesses are at risk of unemployment as result of the crisis.
  • A study from Americans for the Arts on economic losses to the arts as a result of COVID-19, found that nonprofit arts organizations have, to date, registered an estimated $4.5 billion in financial losses. 94% have cancelled events, 23% have reduced their staff, 24% have reduced salaries/payroll, and 34% have laid off or furloughed artists. In addition, nonprofit arts organizations have lost 197 million event admissions, which has resulted in a loss of $6.2 billion in event-related spending by audiences. Taken together, this has resulted in $1.8 billion in lost revenue.
  • The American Alliance of Museums calculated that museums are losing at least $33 million a day due to closures as a result of COVID-19 for a sector where the museum sector supports 726,000 jobs annually and contributes $50 billion a year to the U.S. economy. 

While the situation is challenging, the commitment to preservation efforts remains strong and we are inspired by the many initiatives that continue to share our work in innovative ways as we head into Virtual Preservation Month and collaborate to address the vital needs of our organizations.

Credit: Architect of the Capitol

Advocacy and Action

For the last two months, the National Trust has been deeply engaged on responding to the needs of preservation organizations, Main Street communities, and all those who work to protect the nation’s historic and cultural resources. We joined our partners to endorse critical funding of key programs as Congress passed legislation like the CARES Act and launched a series of webinars providing resources on federal legislation, communications and messaging, efforts to enhance the historic tax credit, and insurance opportunities. As we worked to develop these resources, our government relations team continued to engage Congress and monitor legislative developments.

Since our last update, Congress quickly passed the latest of the coronavirus-related relief packages – the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 266) last week, which was signed into law by the President. The bill provided over $480 billion in funding for hospitals and medical testing, while notably directing the bulk of the money -- $320 billion – to replenishing the Paycheck Protection Program. This small business loan program was a major component of the previous CARES Act and had run out of money the previous week. 

Meanwhile, organizations and businesses across the country continued assessing the impacts of the virus on their respective economic sectors and looked ahead at the legislative calendar and opportunities to secure much-needed assistance to sustain their important work.

Preservation Community Priorities

The National Trust engaged in a comprehensive effort to develop a list of legislative priorities vital to sustaining the broad preservation sector comprised of local, state and national organizations, Main Street communities, historic sites, and more. We conducted outreach to partners and allies across the country to learn the immediate needs required to protect the nation’s historic and cultural resources at this unprecedented time.

Although much has been accomplished by Congress, much more remains to be done. As Congress continues to respond to our national health emergency, additional investments would help ensure the economic recovery of nonprofit organizations, small businesses, the arts and culture sector, while also protecting the nation’s historic and cultural resources.

Today, we transmitted a letter to Congress outlining many of these needs and priorities and urged federal lawmakers to include these provisions in any future coronavirus-related legislative package. Over 380 organizations and businesses endorsed this letter submitted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Main Street America, the National Trust Community Investment Corporation, the Coalition for American Heritage, the National Preservation Partners Network, and Preservation Action.

Key programs and actions that are more described more fully in the letter include:

  • Enhancements to the federal historic tax credit, which provides the nation’s most significant federal investment in historic preservation and is an essential tool to rehabilitate downtowns and catalyze economic development;
  • Supplemental funding of $420 million for the Historic Preservation Fund, including additional funding for state and tribal preservation offices, Certified Local Governments and a significant investment in rehabilitation and related historic resource programs through existing competitive grant programs;
  • Enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422), supported by 59 Senators, which would provide $9.5 billion over five years to address the deferred maintenance needs of the National Park Service and other federal agencies, and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund;
  • Additional enhancements of the charitable giving provisions included in the CARES Act;
  • Additional funding for the arts and humanities and museum communities through the National Endowment of the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services; and
  • Urging opposition to legislative exemptions from provisions in the National Historic Preservation Act, including Section 106, or the National Environmental Policy Act.

While the outlook for legislative activity in Congress remains fluid and uncertain, we encourage the preservation community to amplify the priority asks included in the preservation letter as you engage your elected officials and continue the important work you are leading to protect our nation’s historic and cultural resources. 

To stay updated on these issues and more, subscribe to our government relations newsletter.

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