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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Preserve America and Save America's Treasures Threatened

Much discussion has surrounded the recent White House budget that provides zero funding for the Preserve America and Save America's Treasures program, to keep State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers funding level, and to cut the National Heritage Area program by half.

A White House blog post titled "Tough Choices" on January 30, 2010, cited Preserve America and Save America's Treasures as two programs to be cut. The rationale provided was "Save America’s Treasures program was started to mark the millennium and was supposed to last for two years. Both programs lack rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts so the benefits are unclear."

A quick response was provided by Donovan Rypkema in his PlaceEconomics Blog:
Between 1999 and 2009, the Save America's Treasures program allocated around $220 million dollars for the restoration of nearly 900 historic structures, many of them National Historic Landmarks. This investment by the SAT program generated in excess of $330 million from other sources. This work meant 16,012 jobs (a job being one full time equivalent job for one year...the same way they are counting jobs for the Stimulus Program). The cost per job created? $13,780. This compares with the White House announcement that the Stimulus Package is creating one job for every $248,000.
As anyone who has been through a Save America's Treasures application process can attest, these applications are rigorously reviewed by career federal employees. Competition for these grants is intense and only the finest of projects receive funding.

Preserve America is a very different sort of federal program. This program provides an opportunity for communities throughout the United States to be named a "Preserve America Community". Nearly 800 have done so since 2003. Preserve America Communities may then apply for between $20,000 and $250,000 for heritage tourism, historic preservation planning, history education, and economic development projects. A summary of Total Grants Awarded through 2008 on their website shows since funding began, $17 million has been awarded through 6 competitive rounds. This has resulted in 228 projects being funded from over 601 project proposals requesting $30 million. Preserve America has provided advocates an invaluable tool to bring to local elected officials and get them on the preservation bandwagon.

As those familiar with the Preserve America program know, this is not the first time the program has been faced with a cut. A grant round in 2009 was postponed for lack of funding. Another grant round was announced and applications just requested by February 12, 2010. This was made possible through actions of the Congress to provide an additional $3 million for Preserve America.

Of all cuts submitted as part of the budget process, only around 60% of these make their way into law. So the burden now appears to be on advocates throughout the U.S. to make their case why these programs deserve to be funded. The best opportunity may be in the next two weeks when preservationists throughout the U.S. will come to Washington as part of Historic Preservation Advocacy Week. Pat Lally, Congressional Affairs Director, with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, describes the event as such:
We’ll be making a full court press on the Hill to oppose the elimination of SAT and Preserve America. We’ll also oppose other cuts to important preservation programs, and lobby for increased funding for State and Tribal Offices.
For those interested in attending Historic Preservation Advocacy Week, it is not too late to register.

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