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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

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NationalAssembly of State Arts Agencies

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Legislative Update

Proposed NEA Increase, Artist Visa Process, Arts Education Funding

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

House Panel Approves NEA Funding Increase

Following the July 4 recess, Congress took the first steps forward with fiscal year 2011 funding legislation, as appropriations subcommittees in the House and Senate began drafting their versions of the various money bills to support the range of federal agencies in the coming year. On July 22, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, led by Rep. James Moran (D-VA) chairing the mark-up session, passed favorably on a bill providing $170 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in FY2011—an increase of $3 million over the 2010 budget level and $9 million above the amount proposed by the Obama administration, which had requested a cut to $161 million. The bill also would provide the same $3 million increase in funds for the National Endowment for the Humanities to $170 million.

In proposing the added spending for the two endowments, Moran explained that the increases "recognize the value we place, as a nation, on our artistic and cultural heritage."

No date has been set for the Interior funding bill to move to the full House Appropriations Committee for consideration. The Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has not yet scheduled a meeting to take up its version of the bill, either. There continues to be uncertainty whether the House or Senate will take individual appropriations bills to the floor this year, or end up with a continuing resolution leaving all programs at current funding levels. If the Republicans regain control of the House or Senate, there is the possibility that Congress will reconvene after the November 2 elections for a lame duck session to move funding measures and other legislation while the Democrats are still in the majority.

USCIS Promises Expeditious Visa Process for Artists

Led by the performing arts service organizations, arts advocates scored a significant victory with the announcement on July 20 by senior officials at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the standard applications for visas used by performers (O and P visas) would be adjudicated within 14 days. Delays in the processing of visa applications, sometimes taking up to as much as 120 days, and demands for additional information that can seem arbitrary, have often meant the cancellation of performances in the United States by artists scheduled to travel from abroad.

Although the law governing the review of applications for the O and P visas requires a decision within 14 days, the process has been rife with delays. The agency responsible for issuing visas will undergo a major revision in its policy and training programs to ensure the implementation of the new standards for the visa process.

Continued advocacy with leaders in the House and Senate led to strong support for pressuring the USCIS to alter and improve its visa processing practices. Intervention by the White House Domestic Policy Council helped to raise the level of attention to the need for a solution to the problem at the visa processing centers. Advocacy groups will be closely monitoring trends in processing times to ensure that USCIS fulfills its promise.

Problems began to arise in mid-2001 as the federal agency instituted a premium visa processing that guaranteed a quick turnaround for a substantially higher fee. Then with increased concerns about security following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the standard service began to lag and the adjudication of applications became unpredictable. The touring schedules of performing artists coming from abroad suffered as a result.

House Appropriators Hold Arts Education Funding Intact

A House appropriations subcommittee meeting on July 16 approved a bill with $40 million in funding for the U.S. Department of Education's (USDOE) arts in education competitive grants for program development. The panel's action rejected a proposal by the Obama administration to fold the $40 million currently allocated for the arts education program into a pool combined with other non-arts grant programs to create a new funding bloc with added spending for innovative education programs, though with no guarantee how much support would go for arts education. NASAA and other arts education advocates had urged Congress to designate funding for USDOE's arts education grants separately in the FY2011 appropriations bill, and to consider any changes in program configuration in the context of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act next year.

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