April 24, 2018

Texas Successfully Appeals IMLS Funding Cuts

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC)  successfully appealed an October 2013 decision by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), restoring $6.5 million in federal matching funds designated to support library activities across the Lone Star State. The restored funds take the form of IMLS grants to state libraries through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). Apportioned by IMLS to state libraries around the country, the grants are then used to fund further, smaller grants to individual libraries or branches working to use technology to improve or expand the services they provide to patrons.

“These grants help to fund innovation in libraries, using federal funds as venture capital,” IMLS Director Susan Hildreth told Library Journal. LSTA grants to state libraries, though, come with strings attached. To ensure that federal funds for libraries are a supplement to state funding, not a replacement, IMLS requires that states meet matching funding requirements, which necessitate that state and local governments pay 34% percent of annual LSTA funding, and federal sources will cover the remaining 66 percent, to remain eligible for the program. In tough financial times, states can apply to receive a temporary exemption from that standard by requesting a Maintenance of Effort (MOE) waiver. With its state budget suffering in the wake of the economic downturn, Texas was one of eight states to request such a waiver last year—and one of five states that saw the request rejected.

According to TSLAC Director Mark Smith, the loss of federal funding would have been bad news for libraries all over Texas and the programs they administer. In addition to statewide competitive grants that drive innovation in Texas libraries, LSTA funds support a wide variety of programs, including the digitization of historical documents in Texas’ archives and the state’s Talking Books program, which helps make library books available to disabled patrons across the state. Once word came down that its waiver had been denied, Smith told Library Journal, TSLAC wasted little time preparing an appeal of the decision.

Smith says the appeal focused on demonstrating that, while state funding for libraries was cut in the 2012-2013 biennium, those cuts were not out of proportion with cuts made to other similar state agencies. Another factor working in favor of TSLAC’s appeal was that legislators had already agreed to restore much of the funding at odds. Funding that would be matched by the LSTA grants was cut from $8.8 million in 2011 to $5.6 million in 2012. In 2014, the state funding figure will be $10.3 million. Those two factors were enough to convince IMLS that Texas should get the benefit of the doubt for at least another year of grants.

“Because funding was being restored, we didn’t want the state to have to disassemble programs that they would have to reassemble later on,” Hildreth said. Programs like competitive grants to libraries and interlibrary loan services would have been among those on the chopping block if the IMLS matching funds had not been available to Texas libraries in 2014, said Smith. The restoration of that funding, he told Library Journal, spares TSLAC some hard decisions.

Texas wasn’t the only state spared some tough decisions on this front. Of the four other states—Michigan, Nebraska, Illinois, and Louisiana—that saw their requests for MOE waivers turned down near the end of 2013, Illinois and Louisiana both saw those appeals granted. Nebraska’s appeal was denied, while Michigan’s state library did not appeal the IMLS decision. In Texas, the goal now is to ensure that funding levels for the state library are stabilized, so TSLAC doesn’t have to refight this battle in the future. As Hildreth pointed out, decisions on these grants are made on a case by case basis every year, and the fact that this was the first year Texas had to file an MOE waiver request worked in its favor. According to Smith, though, the recent close call state went through this year wasn’t lost on those controlling the purse strings in Austin.

“Having gone through this waiver situation, legislators realize there is more at stake than just state funds,” he said. “We now have a very compelling argument to make about the importance of maintaining that funding.”

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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