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Appropriations season is under way

Congress failed to close the books on the FY 2017 appropriations by October 1 of last year so it was forced to pass a temporary funding measure called a Continuing Resolution, or “CR.” That stopgap measure kept the government running until November 18. Just before that deadline, they passed a second CR, which is set to expire on April 28, and Congress must act by then or risk an actual government shutdown.

Congress’ work on FY 2017 appropriations is further complicated by the fact that it already has started considering FY 2018 appropriations bills. That’s a very rare circumstance.

Usually, the President begins the annual appropriations cycle by submitting a budget request to Congress (a kind of non-binding “wish list” or message document) the first week of February. The FY 2018 appropriations season is beginning slowly this year, however, because the President has not yet submitted a budget to Congress. That’s likely true for several reasons: the White House transition, many vacancies in senior government agency positions, and the “outsider” perspective of the new administration. When the administration’s budget is ultimately transmitted to Congress (probably in mid-March), it’s expected to propose deep cuts in many (if not all) non-military domestic spending programs. As was widely reported, it may even suggest eliminating some government agencies entirely, like the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.

Thus far, however, there is no indication that the President will suggest abolishing the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the independent agency that administers the bulk of federal library funding under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). Nor have there been any specific calls by the administration or in Congress to cut funding for LSTA (which was $183 million in FY 2016) or the $27 million Innovative Approaches to Literacy program, which historically have enjoyed substantial bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Ultimately, it’s not what’s in the President’s non-binding budget that counts, it’s what Congress appropriates money for that matters . . . and that’s where you come in!

As the FY 2018 appropriations process unfolds in the next few months, we must be ready for and responsive to efforts in Congress to reduce, or even completely “zero out,” LSTA (including its vital “Grants to States” program) and IAL, which helps buy reading materials for the nation’s neediest kids. What’s kept LSTA and IAL (mostly) safe from the budget axe in past years is that thousands of library advocates have contacted their Members of Congress at the right moment with a very specific request that they show their support for LSTA and IAL.

That moment, once again, will arrive in a matter of days.

Specifically, at the very beginning of every fiscal year’s appropriations cycle, our champions in the House and Senate circulate what we call “Dear Appropriator” letters to all of their colleagues. One letter in each chamber asks the Appropriators to support LSTA funding, and a second letter in each chamber requests funds for IAL (that’s four letters total). The more Members who sign the LSTA and IAL letters, the better the chance that the Appropriators will look elsewhere to cut.

Dear Appropriator letters will likely begin circulating in the House and Senate next week. It’s imperative that we generate more support for LSTA and IAL among Members of Congress than ever before. LSTA and IAL

Every ALA member, and everyone an ALA member can think to enlist, must contact their Members of Congress to ask specifically that they sign both the LSTA and IAL letters making the rounds in their chamber of Congress. What’s more, we have to ask Members to sign right away because Dear Appropriator letters must be received by the Appropriations Committees in early to mid-April, just a few weeks away, or they won’t be considered at all.

As always, the Office of Government Relations will make it easy to contact your Representatives in the House and both your Senators at our Legislative Action Center. Please, watch for our alert and be prepared to make your three contacts with Capitol Hill (your House Member and both Senators), but please don’t stop there. Get at least five of your friends and colleagues to do the same! Your support, and theirs, is more critical now than ever.

About Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher is the Assistant Director of the American Library Association's Office of Government Relations (OGR).

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