Preservation Action: Historic Preservation Fund Part IV

Following is the fourth installment in a series provided by Preservation Action (a 501c4 nonprofit organization created in 1974 to serve as the national grassroots lobby for historic preservation) regarding the national Historic Preservation Fund (HPF). As in previous installments, the answers will probably surprise you:

What is the current, unexpended balance in the HPF?
According to the United States Treasury Department the current estimated balance at the end of FY2009 will be $2.7 billion. Yes, BILLION with a “B”. The fund has grown steadily over time, accruing offshore oil lease revenue, and $150 million is authorized to be spent each year on HPF programs. Only the annual appropriated amounts may be withdrawn. Technically, the $2.7 billion balance may not be used for any other purpose than to fund the nation’s preservation program.

Congress has largely ignored this commitment to America’s heritage. Indeed, almost from the beginning, Congress has never lived up to its promise to adequately fund historic preservation. It is up to us to persuade and remind Congress of the merits of historic preservation – of its important role in the economic health, livability and heritage of our communities. Without our support and attention HPF programs are threatened and may well be eliminated due to underfunding.

Since 2001, funding appropriated to the HPF has been reduced from $94 million to $71 million. The reduction has had a severe impact on State Historic Preservation Offices. Funding to SHPOs dropped nearly 30% between 2001 and 2003, and this reduction was maintained for years. This decline, coupled with unprecedented state budget cuts is proving catastrophic in many communities. President Obama’s FY2010 budget proposes $46.5 million for SHPOs – up $4 million from FY2009 which would return SHPO funding to its 2001 level.

Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs) are also suffering greatly from lack of adequate funding. The proposed FY 2010 budget calls for the THPOs to receive $8 million – up $1 million from FY2009. The THPO program began with 12 tribal governments each receiving an average award of $79,875. In FY2009, 16 new THPOs were added to the existing 76 THPOs that sought funding in FY2009.

While a $1 million proposed increase sounds like a success, that funding must be divided and shared by many more tribes than ever before.The economic stimulus package now providing funds for capital projects throughout the United States provided NO additional funding for the States or Tribes even though it is likely that many of the projects funded by the stimulus monies will require review by the Tribal and State Historic Preservation Offices. Funds appropriated for Hurricane recovery in 2006 did contain additional funds needed by those affected states to ramp up their ability to carry out the required project reviews.

What is at stake?

Under-funding seriously jeopardizes the federal preservation program and by extension State and local preservation efforts. As the dollars and staff sizes shrink in the SHPOs and THPOs difficult choices must be made. There may be no alternative but to realign priorities and eliminate discretionary programs — public education, support for private sector non-profits, site visits to communities, marketing the rehabilitation tax credit — in order to have sufficient resources to address the activities about which SHPOs have no discretion: responding to rehabilitation tax credit applications, and commenting on Section 106 cases. Further, HPF reductions also lengthen response times for such reviews — the work load remains constant while the number of qualified staff declines.

These examples — and there are many more — illustrate the debilitating consequences of under funding and serve to suggest the incredible advances that full funding could secure. At a time when Americans, like never before, are searching to understand and celebrate the hallmarks of our democracy and our unique American experience, we have to hold the federal government to its responsibilities put into law decades ago. There is much that YOU can do.

Have you contacted your legislator lately?
Each year preservationists are called upon to defend the federal historic preservation program and this year is certainly no exception. We are demanded to explain the value and importance of this program that is constantly under attack – or is simply misunderstood. Recent feedback from our March 2009 Lobby Day tells us that there are still misconceptions that exist surrounding the HPF. We must show the best and worst case scenarios – what has the program allowed to occur? What progress has been made? What might have been destroyed had it not been for the programs that the fund enables? Preservation funding is continually pitted against numerous other worthwhile endeavors.

We must continually educate our members of Congress and their staff about the HPF programs and its dedicated fund. This funding and program is not a so-called “earmark.” The annual appropriation withdraws a small amount from a very large fund of existing money that cannot by law be used for any other purpose. Our perennial “asks” come directly from this fund. There is no “offset” that must be designated. This money is not being ripped away from another worthy cause or recipient.

Tell them about the important work that the HPF supports in THEIR district. There is perhaps no better illustration of the impact and effectiveness of the HPF than local, shining examples of the HPF at work. Every district has them – make sure your legislator is supplied with images, facts and figures about them. HPF-funded programs have established a successful set of incentives, regulations, and assistance that foster local decision making and direct private investment to maximize the viability of existing resources.

Many activities are made possible by the HPF, but their effectiveness is increasingly compromised by staff layoffs, lack of funds for survey and documentation work, and slow turn around times for reviews and certifications. Specific examples of how these programs work in your community, and illustrations of the tremendous need for such programs will help you reinforce the importance of adequate, increased funding for the States, Tribes and territories through the Historic Preservation Fund.

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