By Janelle DiLuccia and Tom Cassidy
The House Appropriations Committee approved the most preservation-friendly funding bill in memory on May 22. The FY2020 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill and accompanying report include a remarkable number of funding increases and significant policy provisions for which the National Trust for Historic Preservation and our partners advocated. (We have compiled a comprehensive summary of the bill with relevant report language and budget tables.)
Raising the Bar for the Historic Preservation Fund
The House bill provides a new record high of $121.66 million for the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), which is $19 million above FY2019’s record funding of $102.66 million. Within this funding, state historic preservation officers (SHPOs) receive a $4 million increase, and tribal historic preservation officers (THPOs) receive a $2 million increase. Unfortunately, the House did not fund a request for a new $5 million program of competitive grants that would have allowed SHPOs and THPOs to fund GIS-based historic resource databases and maps.
In a significant development that was a focus of National Trust advocacy, the House bill expands funding for Civil Rights Grants. That funding contains $17.5 million for African American Civil Rights grants and a new $5 million competitive grant program for Civil Rights for All Americans, including women and Latinx, Native American, and LGBTQ Americans. The grants for communities underrepresented on the National Register of Historic Places receives level funding of $750,000 in the House committee bill.
The House committee provides $10 million for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities grant program, an increase of $2 million above the enacted level and equal to the fully authorized amount.
The bill increases funding for Save America’s Treasures by $3 million to $16 million, and a relatively new program for Historic Revitalization Grants is continued with level funding of $5 million.
Increases for Preservation Programs and Agencies
In addition to the HPF, the House committee bill provides numerous other increases, including for cultural programs that support management of the National Register and approval of historic tax credit projects, among other important functions. The committee also recommends $1 million dollars 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 hurt engagement with the UNESCO World Heritage program. The committee also provides a nearly $1.5 million increase to $20.81 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 $12.5 million to $167.5 million, in line with the amount recommended by the National Trust and other organizations. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation sees a boost to almost $7.34 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. These three accounts all see increases in the House committee bill, reflecting a continued focus on programs that help maintain historic and other assets in our parks.
For public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), 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. The letter, which was signed by a total of 91 organizations, requested an increase of at least $3 million for cultural resources management and at least $5 million for national monuments and other national conservation lands. These increases were reflected in the committee’s bill, which provides $20.3 million for cultural resources management and $45.1 million for national conservation lands.
The committee also provides $523.95 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), including $15 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 since 2003.
Strong Direction on National Register Regulations, Protecting Chaco Culture, and More
In the report accompanying the bill, the House Appropriations Committee expressed concern about the NPS proposal to modify long-standing procedures to nominate properties to the National Register and urged the NPS to withdraw the proposed rule and consult with key stakeholders.
The committee also directed the BLM to refrain from leasing or proposing new leases within a 10-mile radius of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park and to prioritize planning updates for the region, increase cultural resources inventories, and engage in meaningful government-to-government consultation with tribes.
To address concerns about the Department of the Interior’s process for reviewing grant agreements above $50,000—which has impacted HOPE Crew projects, among many other projects and programs—the committee urged the department to streamline processes for making awards for congressionally directed funding and programs with longstanding cooperative agreements. The committee also directed the department to provide additional information about its reviews, which are causing excessive delays and undue burdens on recipients.
Making the Case for Preservation Amid Uncertainty
Leading up to the House 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 the committee to federal agencies about proposed changes to the National Register regulations, protecting the Greater Chaco landscape, and more.
We expect the full House to consider—and likely pass—this bill in June. Action in the Senate and the path to enactment are less clear. Currently, there is no agreement among the House, Senate, and president about overall government funding levels for FY20, which will begin on October 1, and the president’s budget proposal allotted drastically less for discretionary spending. While it is too early to speculate about what final appropriations may look like, the House has set an extraordinarily strong marker for funding federal programs that benefit historic preservation.
Nonetheless, continued advocacy is necessary as the appropriations process continues in the Senate and ultimately in conference. Please consider signing up for our government relations newsletter to get updates about ongoing developments.
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.