FY20 Budget Proposes to Eliminate IMLS; Advocates Called On to Step Up

The White House released President Trump’s preliminary FY20 budget proposal on Monday, March 11. As with the administration’s proposed FY18 and FY19 budgets, it calls for major cuts to domestic federal spending, and proposes the elimination of a number of non-military agencies, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

FY20 budget title pageThe White House released President Trump’s preliminary FY20 budget proposal on Monday, March 11. As with the administration’s proposed FY18 and FY19 budgets, it calls for major cuts to domestic federal spending, and proposes the elimination of a number of non-military agencies, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). These cuts are unlikely to be enacted by Congress—they weren’t in the past two years, and will likely face even more opposition now that the Democrats control the House. However, memories of January’s government shutdown, forced by Trump’s demands for border wall funding, loom large—with the possibility of another showdown at the end of September when the current compromise spending package for FY19 expires.

For the third year since Trump’s election, the proposed budget calls for the elimination of IMLS. The U.S. Department of Education would see a 12 percent decrease in funding that would propose, among other measures, to end the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, decrease the number of income-driven loan repayment programs, and eliminate subsidized student loans, all of which impact librarians directly as well as the people they serve. (Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security would also see steep cuts under the FY2020 budget.)

Academic libraries would see decreases in research funding as well under the new budget. Deep spending cuts are called for at many federal science agencies, including a 13 percent cut earmarked for the National Institutes of Health and a 12 percent reduction for the National Science Foundation.

“Not only does the administration’s new budget dismiss the value of IMLS, it reduces funding for many other worthwhile programs, including resources for children,” American Library Association (ALA) president Loida Garcia-Febo said in a statement issued March 11. “Cutting federal support for programs like the Department of Education’s Innovative Approaches to Literacy [IAL] comes at the cost of early literacy, often in the most underserved areas of our nation. In addition, the White House budget proposal undermines public education for all students, penalizes librarians striving to improve their professional skills, and makes careers in public service out of reach for many.”


Congress has shown bipartisan support for IMLS during the past two years of budget debates, boosting last year’s funding by $2 million. In December 2018, the Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA), which authorizes—but does not fund—IMLS, was signed into law. However, there is still a pressing need for library supporters to step forward and advocate against budget cuts, as they did in previous years. The House deadline for “Dear Appropriator” letters, which ask representatives to preserve funding, is March 28.

“ALA is not surprised by this budget proposal, but we do know the competition is fiercer than it has been in the last two cycles,” Kathi Kromer, associate executive director of ALA’s Washington Office, told LJ. “Our record of success at the national level shows we have been agile, innovative, and effective in our advocacy, so we are prepared. ALA’s advocacy professionals and policy experts work directly and strategically with elected leaders and congressional staff to ensure libraries literally have a seat at the decision-making tables on Capitol Hill. We’ve worked hard through the years to cultivate direct relationships in Washington. On top of that, in the last six months, ALA has doubled-down on our investments to help our members step up their own advocacy and tell their stories in new ways, including a full redesign of our website with videos and customizable resources to build their own advocacy skills and strategies.”

ALA’s revamped advocacy pages include a form that supporters can use to contact their representatives. Two letters can be sent through ALA’s interface; one, led by U.S. Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Don Young (R-AK), asks members of the House Appropriations Committee to provide at least $206 million for LSTA, and the other, led by Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Young, asks the Committee to provide at least $27 million for IAL. Companion letters to members of the Senate will be released in the coming weeks.

ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy team in Washington, DC, has been communicating with every member of the 116th Congress since January, and in February held a library card sign-up day on Capitol Hill. ALA also coordinated a two-day advocacy fly-in event for library supporters to meet with members of Congress on February 25–26.

In addition, ALA leaders are amplifying the message that advocacy is an ongoing strategy, and encouraging members—and all library supporters—to engage with their local officials throughout the year.

“ALA is ready to support members as they ‘level up’ and continue to build relationships and advocate year-round,” Kromer told LJ. “There’s a new Congress, and that means fresh opportunities for ALA members to tell their stories in ways that will advance libraries of all kinds as a national priority.”

National nonprofit political action committee EveryLibrary also has a webpage to help allies advocate for IMLS and IAL, calling on them to “Tell Congress ‘NO’ to this bad budget proposal. Send your message today to ensure that the House and Senate do their jobs and fund libraries, museums, and archives.”

The Library of Congress (LC) also took a proactive stance when Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden testified before the U.S. House and Senate on March 7 in support of LC’s FY20 budget, calling attention to LC’s 2019–23 Strategic Plan and recently developed Digital Strategy and requesting a 6.8 percent increase over LC’s FY19 enacted appropriation.

“Modernization and optimization—not only of IT systems, but of the experience visitors have when they come to the Library, the competencies needed in a modernized, more automated environment, braille and talking book delivery mechanisms, and capacity in data and analytics—are critical to moving the Library forward into the future,” said Hayden, noting, “the Library is the embodiment of the American ideal of a knowledge-based democracy.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a joint statement on March 10, warning of potential conflicts the FY20 budget request could engender. “President Trump hurt millions of Americans and caused widespread chaos when he recklessly shut down the government to try to get his expensive and ineffective wall,” they wrote. “Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government. The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again.”

“ALA members will continue to highlight the value of libraries to our elected leaders in every U.S. congressional district,” noted Garcia-Febo. “We are confident that the 116th Congress will support the federal programs that invest in our communities.”

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Lisa Peet


Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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