The National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities can breath a sigh of relief. On Wednesday, the US Congress has passed a 2019 budget allotting both contested federal agencies a $155 million budget for the forthcoming fiscal year.
The Fiscal Year 2019 Interior Appropriations Bill was approved by the the Senate with a 92-6 vote yesterday, after previously being passed by the House of Representatives. The new budget increases funding to the two agencies by $2.2 million compared to the 2018 budget. (That budget was only passed in March, despite the fact that the fiscal year begins in October.) The 2017 budget also included a $2 million increase for the agencies.
Notably, the latest $2 million boost still only amounts to a budget increase of 1.42 percent, which lags behind the roughly two percent annual rate of inflation.
“Americans from our largest cities to our smallest towns should have ‘the Right to Bear Arts,’” said Tim Daly, president of the Creative Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group of members of the entertainment industry, in a statement. “The new funding increase for NEA will ensure that those in underserved and rural areas are able to experience the positive impact of the arts in education, in strengthening our communities, and in defining our American spirit.”
The NEA and NEH funding comes despite efforts by President Donald Trump to zero out the budgets for the two agencies entirely in a budget proposal presented in February. Eliminating the NEA and NEH has been on Trump’s agenda since 2017, despite widespread opposition from the cultural sector, and even among a number of Republicans. The president still needs to sign the budget into law before it is officially approved, and has already expressed his disapproval of the bill—including the provision of funds for the NEA and NEH.
“The administration is concerned,” read a White House statement of administration policy issued last week, “that this combined package is nearly $38 billion above the FY 2019 budget request, includes certain objectionable policy provisions.”
“The administration is disappointed that the bill does not eliminate federal funding for NEA [and] NEH,” the statement continued. “The administration recognizes the positive effects the arts and humanities have on our communities; however, the FY 2019 budget request proposed an orderly phase-out of federal funding for these agencies, as the administration does not consider their activities to be core federal responsibilities.”
There was some effort to reduce arts spending this coming year, as Representative Glenn Grothman, a Republican from Wisconsin, proposed an amendment to the funding bill that would have cut each agency’s budget by $23 million. It was voted down last month, 297 to 114.
Arts advocacy groups like Americans for the Arts have crunched the numbers and estimate that the NEA’s budget is only 0.0004 percent of all federal spending. They say that the agencies serve a critical function in bringing the arts to small towns and rural communities—and note that even the act of shutting down the NEA and NEH would cost a quarter of their annual budgets.