N.H. Humanities Council fears proposed deep federal cuts

Just under 50 percent of the New Hampshire Humanities Council’s roughly $1 million budget comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities


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The New Hampshire Humanities Council – the nonprofit that in the last year brought to the stage retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter and Bush v. Gore lawyers David Boies and Ted Olson – fears the impact that a proposed halving of the National Endowment for the Humanities budget could have on the programming it offers around New Hampshire.

In an email sent late last week, Debbie Watrous, the group’s executive director, implored supporters to contact their Congresswoman to voice their opposition to the proposed cuts.

She sent the email in response to a bill that the U.S. House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee drafted for fiscal year 2014, which included $75 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities – a 49 percent reduction for the agency from its FY 2013 level. The bill, which cut overall spending by 19 percent from the previous fiscal year, “seeks to protect vital programs that directly affect the safety and well-being of Americans, while dramatically scaling back lower-priority, or ‘nice-to-have’ programs,” said House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., in a release about the bill.

‘Devastating’

Just under 50 percent of the New Hampshire Humanities Council’s roughly $1 million budget comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities, with the rest made up from individuals, businesses and foundations, according to Watrous. “Losing that much all at once would be – the only word I can think of is devastating,” she said.

In the past three years, the national agency’s budget has already been reduced by 19 percent, said Watrous. “To add a cut of this magnitude on top of that… we couldn’t absorb it. We’d have to deeply cut our programming.”

It's also possible, she said, that cuts of that size could also impact the nonprofit’s staff (it employs seven full-timers and two part-timers). 

Founded in 1974, the Humanities Council offers a range of programs and services around the state, notably adult literacy programs and citizen engagement initiatives.

The council’s Constitutionally Speaking series, held in late 2012 and early 2013, welcomed former Supreme Court Justice David Souter to the stage of the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord for a wide-ranging discussion about the Constitution in his first extended remarks since retiring from the bench in 2009. The initiative concluded by hosting David Boies and Ted Olson, the attorneys who argued opposite sides in Bush v. Gore but teamed up to argue against California’s Prop 8. Both events were free to the public and sold out quickly.

In addition to its civic engagement initiatives, the council also has a speaker’s bureau, called Humanities to Go, which offers organizations such as libraries, historical societies, nonprofits and similar entities across the state access to educational cultural programs on wide-ranging topics, from Beowulf to New Hampshire cellar holes. Humanities to Go has seen an increase in bookings since 2008, as many local organizations have had to cut their own programming budgets, said Watrous.

The council also runs Connections, an adult literacy program offered in partnership with adult basic education and ESOL classes, prisons, and refugee resettlement organizations, to provide participants with acclaimed children’s books to practice their literacy skills.

It’s also a grant-making organization, granting community organizations across the state the funds to create their own humanities programs, which often go to summer institute and teacher workshops.

According to Watrous, the council hosted nearly 650 free programs in 174 towns and cities in the state in 2012, serving 55,000 residents.

“I know here in New Hampshire the need for literacy, for teacher professional development, to get people together to have reasonable conversations about our toughest issues have never been greater, yet the resources are shrinking,” said Watrous. “It’s frustrating.”

The House Appropriations Committee will consider the bill on Wednesday. In a statement, Interior Subcommitte Chairman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said the bill “makes very difficult choices in an extremely tough budget environment. In order to fund critical ‘must-do’ priorities, like human health, public safety, and treaty obligations and responsibilities, we’ve had to reduce and even terminate some programs that are popular with both Members of Congress and the American people.” 


 

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