By Bethany L. Hawkins, AASLH Chief of Operations
On February 22-23, AASLH staff joined hundreds of museum advocates from around the country to take the issues that are most critical for our field in 2021 to our members of Congress. Each year, the American Alliance of Museums holds Museums Advocacy Day which AASLH is proud to help sponsor. We thank our AAM colleagues for the work it takes to put this event each year. This year, Advocacy Day was virtual which allowed many new advocates to speak to their Congressional delegation for the first time.
Thank you also to all the history organizations who participated in this event. If you did not, you can still speak up for museums through email, letters, phone calls, and meetings with your representative’s local staff.
Coming out of the full day of training and preparation on Monday and Congressional visits on Tuesday, there are several issues that we as history organizations need to advocate for this year:
Museums and the COVID-19 pandemic: This is the pressing issue for 2021. We know that museums of all sizes are struggling with closures and vastly decreased attendance. We made the case that museums provide vital services to local communities and are hurting. They will also be vital to recovery of communities across the country.
- We asked Congress to increase funding by at least $1.25 billion for the Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators grants. We also asked that they remove the eligibility requirement for “fixed seating” as it eliminates many of the organizations who need it most.
- We asked that Congress provide nonprofit specific grants, forgivable loans, and refundable tax credits for all nonprofits, including museums, and ease some of the restrictions in the Paycheck Protection Program.
- We asked Congress to strengthen charitable giving incentives by increasing and extending the above-the-line dedication while preserving the itemized charitable contribution deduction.
Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Office of Museum Services funding: IMLS is the primary federal agency responsible for helping museums connect people to information and ideas. Its Office of Museum Services (OMS) awards grants to museums. Currently, the OMS can fund a very small amount of grants compared to the applications received. We urge Congress to increase funding to the OMS from $40 million to $80 million for FY2022. The increase in funding will allow for more grants to strengthen structural support for museums. AASLH thinks this is critical as museums start to prepare for the 250th anniversary in 2026.
National Endowment for the Humanities: We thanked our Senators and Representatives for their support of the NEH and let them know how it has helped with local recovery through the state humanities councils. We also explained that, like IMLS, NEH gets far more requests for funding than they can grant. We urge Congress to provide $135 million in supplemental COVID-19 economic relief grants and at least $225 million in regular FY2022 appropriation for the NEH.
Tax policy: Charitable giving accounts for more than one-third of museums operating funds across the sector. We asked that Congress extend and expand incentives for charitable giving. This included the following:
- Expand and make permanent the universal charitable deduction, which was established on a limited and temporary basis in the CARES Act.
- Extend the CARES Act provision that allows individuals to deduct up to 100% of their Adjusted Gross Income through charitable gifts.
- Support the Legacy IRA Act (S. 243), allowing seniors to make tax-free distributions to planned giving accounts as well as charities.
Congressional America 250 Caucus: AASLH staff and others asked the members of Congress we visited to sign on to the newly formed Congressional America 250 Caucus. This Caucus provides a forum for lawmakers to share their interest in America’s 250th anniversary and promote an awareness of the subject on Capitol Hill. It will serve as a valuable resource for lawmakers and Congressional staff as planning for America 250 continues to evolve. This is an easy ask, and they can join by contacting one of the Caucus co-chairs listed here.
You can find more details on all these legislative issues on the American Alliance of Museum’s website. It also includes helpful infographics about federal funding per state, museums as economic drivers in their communities, and more. There is also a helpful section on how to advocate on the federal, state, and local level if you were unable to participate in the official Museums Advocacy Day.
2021 is a critical year for museums and history organizations. Will you commit to contacting your members of Congress regarding at least one of the issues listed? You never know what a difference your voice will make.
*Most of the specific legislative language in this post comes from AAM’s Legislative Agenda: Issues At a Glance document.
Bethany L. Hawkins is the Chief of Operations for AASLH. She can be reached at [email protected].