FY20 Budget Passes Senate, House, Boosts IMLS Funding

Under H.R. 1865, IMLS, LSTA, Comprehensive Literary Grants, the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Library of Medicine, and the Library of Congress will all have increased budgets.

Capitol buildingTwo spending bills for the FY20 budget— H.R. 1158, the Consolidated National Security Bill, and H.R. 1865, the Consolidated Domestic and International Assistance Bill—have passed the Senate and the House, and at press time were awaiting being signed into law by President Trump. Under H.R. 1865, the Institute for Museum and Library Service (IMLS) will receive $252 million, an increase of $10 million. The Library Services Technology Act (LSTA) will see an increase of $6.2 million; Comprehensive Literary Grants will be increased by $2 million; and the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities will each receive $167.5 million, $12.5 million more than 2019 enacted levels. The National Library of Medicine will get a $15 million boost, and the Library of Congress’s budget increased by $29 million.

For the third year in a row, the administration’s FY20 budget proposal, submitted in March, had threatened IMLS with elimination. Previous years of the Trump administration had seen a similar cycle of funding threats to IMLS, LSTA, and various other educational and cultural agencies, in which the proposed federal budget called for severe cuts or elimination and Congress worked through the fall to arrive at an 11th-hour solution that restored—and often increased—budgets for those agencies.

This year, when Congress did not complete actions on appropriations before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, it enacted a continuing resolution (CR) that funded the government through November 21. A second CR ran through December 20, allowing the House and Senate to continue to negotiate. On December 16, two packages containing all 12 appropriations measures were filed with the House of Representatives.

The House passed the legislation by one 297–120 vote and one 280–138 vote on Tuesday, December 17. The Senate passed the appropriations measures on Thursday, December 19, by votes of 71–23 and 81–11.

"This was the third go-round,” American Library Association (ALA) Deputy Director of Government Relations Kevin Maher told LJ. “The first year we thought [the elimination of IMLS] was a possibility, but we didn't know because the administration was new and we didn't have any indication ahead of time what they were going to do.”

Another major difference this year, Maher pointed out, was bipartisan work done over the summer to raise discretionary spending caps and increase spending on domestic programs. "Congress being able to come to a compromise between the House and the Senate reflected the priorities for both chambers,” he said. “There was a recognition that both education and libraries really needed to be increased in their funding."

While the increases requested by the House exceeded the agreement, and advocates knew they wouldn’t be reflected in the final budget, “We knew that there would probably be increases for our programs at the end of the day,” said Maher. “We were pleased that the Senate agreed to increase LSTA by $6.2 million, and increase a lot of other programs. I think that bipartisan agreement took some of the pressure off."

There was a marked increase in the number of signatures for appropriations letters, particularly in the House, which Maher attributed at least in part to the advocacy work done by ALA and library supporters nationwide. Many of these initiatives, begun in 2017 and honed over the past few years, were already in place and ready to mobilize.

“We were able to schedule and plan ahead a little bit, knowing that they probably would be zeroed out,” said Maher, “and same thing for next year. We're working on the assumption that they're probably going to be eliminated again, so we're going to have to respond again in that manner."

These included events in Congress and on Capitol Hill to increase visibility for libraries, a Congressional library card sign-up day, and an event that briefed staff on how libraries help address summer slide.

These included a targeted fly-in to Washington, DC, in February, focusing exclusively on appropriations. The fly-in replaced ALA’s annual National Library Legislative Day, which would have overlapped with the ALA Annual Conference in DC.

“That worked well, because when you go to congressional offices with a lot of groups, you come in with three or four messages,” said Maher. A similar event is planned for 2020, as well as a National Library Legislative Day, which will be a larger event for advocates to talk about a broader range of library issues.

In addition to marking another victory for library agencies, success on the FY20 budget means that ALA and other organizations can begin to mobilize advocacy for the FY21 budget—and once again, they’re ready.

“We're just trying to get a lot of the pieces done ahead of time,” Maher told LJ. Assuming the next preliminary budget will attempt to zero out IMLS again, “we know what our messaging is going to be. So once the budget does come out and the [appropriations] letters start circulating, we have all the stuff written. We don't have to stay up until one in the morning writing.”

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Lisa Peet


Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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