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Monday, November 16, 2009

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Legislative Update

Congress Votes $12.5 Million Arts Increase; Senate Panel Sets National Service Increase

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

On October 30, President Obama signed into law the final version of the bill appropriating $167.5 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in fiscal year 2010. The funding legislation passed by the House and Senate a day earlier set the arts endowment budget for the year with an increase of $12.5 million above the 2009 level of $155 million. The president had proposed raising the arts funding to $161.3 million, the same amount set in the Senate version of the legislation. The House had allocated $170 million for the arts endowment in the coming year. The increases in the NEA budget were uncontroversial during House and Senate floor debate.

The appropriations measure passed by the House and Senate also includes authority, requested by the president in the administration's 2010 budget, for the appointment of four additional members to the National Council on the Arts, returning the endowment's advisory body closer to the size it enjoyed before Congress decreased the board's membership several years ago.

The appropriations bill also includes a general provision prohibiting any agency, including the NEA, from any activity, publication or distribution of literature that "in any way [emphasis added] tends to promote public support or opposition to any legislative proposal on which Congressional action is not complete other than to communicate to Members of Congress...." The bill urges the NEA to take immediate steps to ensure that all employees are aware of these provisions when conducting any activities funded by this appropriation. The legislative admonition is in apparent response to concerns raised in recent months by members of Congress and others over efforts by the Obama administration to engage in dialogue with various constituencies on issues of interest to the White House.

The Interior appropriations bill accompanies a continuing resolution to carry seven unfinished money bills through December while Congress continues work to finish those remaining funding measures. Among those is the FY2010 education appropriations measure yet to move to the Senate floor, with funding for the U.S. Department of Education's arts education program. However, the outcome for the arts education money is fairly certain. The bill passed by the House in July and the legislation approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee the same month include an increase of $2 million over the 2009 funding, with an allocation of $40.166 million for the federal arts education program. The grants include support for the Model Arts initiative, Professional Development for Arts Educators program, and evaluation activities, as well as funds for VSA Arts and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts education programs.

Senate Panel Sets National Service Increase

The Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill voted on by the Senate Appropriations Committee in July includes $1.15 billion for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), following the budget levels proposed by President Obama for the agency. The companion bill passed by the House of Representatives set funding at a level of $90 million less than the president's request for the corporation.

In the total amount going to CNCS, the Senate bill approves spending $50 million, as proposed by the president, on a new Social Innovation Fund that would provide money for nonprofit groups developing creative solutions to national and local issues. The House had voted to spend no more than $35 million on the fund. The Senate legislation also sets spending at $8 million for a new Volunteer Generation Fund and $2 million for a new Nonprofit Capacity Building Program. The House did not include money for either program.

Keep abreast of current congressional news and federal legislative updates, and be sure to take advantage of NASAA's arts advocacy tools and services.