President Donald Trump released his preliminary budget proposal for FY18 on March 16, revealing severe cuts across domestic government spending—which would include eliminating support for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports public television and radio, including PBS and NPR. Funding cuts to the four cultural heritage agencies comes to some $971 million: $148 million each for NEA and NEH, $230 million for IMLS, and $445 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—less than 0.5 percent of the total federal budget.
The 53-page proposal, titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” outlined a $54 billion increase in defense spending, as well as an additional $2.6 billion for a border wall and $1.4 billion toward school choice. These reallocations are offset by cuts to a wide range of agencies and executive departments that support scientific data and research, health, environmental safety, international relations, and social protections, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the departments of Health and Human Services and Education, among others.
Cuts to the Education Department (ED) would terminate many programs that aid low-income and minority students, and stand to impact grants for higher education as well. Eight ED-administered TRIO Programs, which assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities in moving through the academic pipeline from middle school through college, would see nearly $200 million in cuts, and the annual budget for GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) would be reduced by a third. The federal SEOG (Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants) program would be eliminated, with serious cuts to the Federal Work-Study program.
And while the budget plan states that it would preserve the Pell Grant program, it would still remove $3.9 billion from its $10.6 billion surplus, threatening the program’s sustainability. “If we get a recession and demand for the Pell Grant spikes, we’re going to get a shortfall really fast,” Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, told Inside Higher Ed.
In addition to the Trump’s budget also proposes to eliminate funding for 15 other independent agencies, including the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
AGENCIES SPEAK UP
IMLS director Kathryn K. Matthew responded in a statement, “The institutions we serve provide vital resources that contribute significantly to Americans’ economic development, education, health, and well-being whether by facilitating family learning and catalyzing community change or stimulating economic development through job training and skills development. Our agency’s support enables museums and libraries to offer learning experiences for students and families as well as increase care for and access to the nation’s collections that are entrusted to museums and libraries by the public.”
Matthew concluded, “As Congress now begins its work on the FY 2018 budget, our agency will continue to work closely with the Office of Management and Budget. More importantly, we will continue to remain steadfast in our work on behalf of the millions of Americans touched by the services of libraries and museums each day.”
American Library Association president Julie Todaro called the president’s budget proposal “counterproductive and short-sighted” in a statement, adding, “The American Library Association will mobilize its members, Congressional library champions, and the millions upon millions of people we serve in every zip code to keep those ill-advised proposed cuts from becoming a Congressional reality. Libraries leverage the tiny amount of federal funds they receive through their states into an incredible range of services for virtually all Americans everywhere to produce what could well be the highest economic and social ‘ROI’ in the entire federal budget.
The Visual Resources Association (VRA) issued a statement in solidarity with its colleagues, which read, in part, “The VRA Board is concerned about the debilitating impact that defunding culture and creativity will have on this country and the creative and scholarly endeavors that we support through our work. Art, culture, and creativity are critical ingredients in exploration, discovery, and innovation, and they are essential components to a strong, vibrant, and informed nation. Now is a perfect example of how members of our affiliated associations can leverage the relationships and connections we’ve developed across our associations and act upon our concerns as a unit.” The statement points readers to the College Art Association’s Arts and Humanities Advocacy Toolkit, adding, “We know that our collective voices can make a difference.”
“WE HAVE TO STEP UP”
Federal government agencies are not allowed to engage in advocacy, either directly or indirectly. However, supporters of libraries, humanities, and the arts are coming forward to speak up for them.
The Digital Library Federation (DLF) posted a statement that said, in part, “Program officers and staff of public service organizations like these are prohibited by the federal Hatch Act of 1939 from engaging in some forms of political activity, thus curtailing their ability to advocate fully for the agencies to which they have devoted so much, while serving as agency representatives. The DLF community must represent them, and—in our support for the myriad ways these agencies serve us—we raise our voices to represent the communities and publics we serve together.” DLF provided a link to the Indivisible Guide webpage, which offers guidelines and resources for individuals to take action.
“Regardless of your party affiliation or political creed (and in the understanding that diversity of thought is among our community’s great strengths),” DLF director Bethany Nowviske wrote, in a statement, “if you share my concern about aspects of the current administration’s budget proposal and vision for libraries, research data, and cultural heritage in the digital age, I urge you to contact your representatives and make your views known.” She points supporters to the National Humanities Alliance’s Humanities Action Center, and those who wish to mobilize to DLF’s Organizers’ Tookit.
National nonprofit political action committee EveryLibrary has set up a webpage for supporters to contact their elected officials to preserve funding for the cultural agencies, and to donate in support of EveryLibrary’s work.
“When politicians…go after libraries, we have to step up,” EveryLibrary founder and executive director (and 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker) John Chrastka told LJ. “Fighting to save the IMLS is important not only because of programs that help all 50 states through this vital federal agency, but [it] also shows all Americans that libraries matter today. As a community, we need to rally around the IMLS—which is core for libraries—but also NEA, NEH, and PBS. It’s not just about funding. It’s about quality of life in our communities. And to be heard, at this early stage, it needs to be a strident call to preserve these programs.”
Cuts to the Education Department are will also see the need for public libraries to work more closely with academic and K–12 libraries. Added Chrastka, “Coming on the heels of the House and Senate repealing key federal rules for ESSA [Every Student Succeeds Act], the president’s proposal to cut the Department of Education by 13 percent—while providing significant re-allocations within the budget for school choice programs—needs a lot of attention from the library community…. Since the ESSA framework has always been for states to shape their own plans on how to prioritize and fund themselves, [libraries’] relationships with state education agencies has just gotten a lot more important.”
Trump needs to reach an agreement on the budget with congress by the end of April. The president will present a more comprehensive plan in May. However, the proposal may encounter resistance from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) reminded the Washington Post, “We do the budget here. The administration makes recommendations, but Congress does budgets.” The budget plan does not offer concrete details about which federal jobs would be eliminated, nor how exactly the $54 billion increase to military spending would be allocated.
“We understand that the President’s budget request is a first step in a very long budget process,” noted NEA chair Jane Chu in a statement; “as part of that process we are working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prepare information they have requested. At this time, the NEA continues to operate as usual and will do so until a new budget is enacted by Congress.”
In a similar statement, NEH chairman William D. Adams wrote, “We are greatly saddened to learn of this proposal for elimination, as NEH has made significant contributions to the public good over its 50-year history. But as an agency of the executive branch, we answer to the President and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Therefore, we must abide by this budget request as this initial stage of the federal budget process gets under way. It will be up to Congress over the next several months to determine funding levels for fiscal year 2018. We will work closely with OMB in the coming months as the budget process continues. The agency is continuing its normal operations at this time.”
“These programs account for [an] incredibly insignificant portion of the national budget,” Chrastka noted, “and while [Trump] diverted these funds for the military, we have to ask; what are we fighting for, if not the arts and humanities? These are the simple human things that make life worth fighting for.”
Additional reports, commentary, and other material relating to the proposal will be posted on LJ’s InfoDocket as they become available.