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$183 million reasons you should keep track of the U.S. budget process

February marks the start of the budget and appropriations busy season in Washington, DC – and by March we’re into the full swing of funding requests, Committee markups and, as always potential cuts. Last year, the question of whether Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) would continue to be funded was a nail-bitter. Library advocates spoke out, though, and we were able to save the program, receiving just under $183 million.

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By Philip Taylor

But our work’s not done. We need to continue to keep LSTA off the chopping block! Members of Congress are less likely to reduce or eliminate funding for programs that directly and profoundly benefit their communities – and the only way they’ll know about that is through you.

To be most effective, you’ll want to know about a few fundamental differences between three types of money-related bills, specifically “Authorization,” “Budget,” and “Appropriations:” and each of these goes through a different procedure in different committees at different times with different people — you get the drift. Here’s a basic breakdown:

  1. Authorizations: These are bills that, when passed into law, allow programs to exist. LSTA, for example, was originally authorized in 1996. In general, money can’t be spent on a program if it’s not authorized. In addition, legislators use the authorization process to propose changes to programs, some of which may be helpful, and others not-so-much. Programs are often up for reauthorization, which is one reason why we always need to make sure legislators know how critical LSTA funds are to their communities.
  2. Budget: This is a blueprint that outlines how Budget Committee policymakers THINK we should spend money, including on LSTA. It’s not binding and doesn’t become law, but it’s an important way to set priorities. The President just proposed his budget on February 9th. Congress will propose one (or several) over the next few months. Then they fight it out in the…
  3. Appropriations: This is where we get the cold, hard cash, specifically the approximately $183 million we’re so interested in for LSTA. Legislators and their staff need to know about the fabulous things these grants funded in the past back home in their communities. That’s the only way they’ll support them in the future.

Don’t get us started on “Continuing Resolutions” and “Omnibus” bills which you might hear more about this Fall. We’ll bore your ears off. Suffice to say that not all of this goes as smoothly as we’d like and the rules get changed. All. The. Time.

We need to show support for LSTA at each step of the process, which takes place year ‘round. That’s why it feels like we’re ALWAYS asking you to send an e-mail, make a phone call, post on social media, schedule a visit, attend a town hall, or send a carrier pigeon. If we keep the pressure on throughout the year, we may just get that $183 million – or more!

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Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher is the deputy director of government relations at the American Library Association’s Washington Office. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Before coming to the ALA in 2014, Kevin was the vice president of government affairs for the American Hotel and Lodging Association for 20 years.

One Comment

  1. […] District Dispatch offers $183 million reasons you should keep track of the U.S. budget process. The budget process can be incredibly complicated, but this article offers a few tips on understanding some key information. […]

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