Sea History 178 - Spring 2022

Page 36

Advocating for Maritime Heritage Funding: Congress Recognizes and Values the Maritime Heritage Grant Program—But Appropriates No Funds by Timothy J. Runyan, PhD Chair, National Maritime Alliance and Trustee, National Maritime Historical Society y mission, as chair of both the National Maritime Alliance and the Advocacy Committee of the National Maritime Historical Society, is to support the broader maritime heritage community through advocacy efforts in Washington, most notably to fund the National Maritime Heritage Grant Program. Historic ships, maritime museums, lighthouses, libraries, websites, digitization projects, and more have all received critical funding through this program. Now, more than ever, we need to raise awareness that preserving our maritime heritage is a mandate for our society and funding for it must be a part of the federal budget. To convince our representatives in Washington, we need to increase our advocacy efforts—they need to hear from constituents that this is a worthy use of federal dollars. Never underestimate the impact of a thoughtful letter to your members of Congress! Our major focus over the past year was to try to secure a $10 million appropriation by Congress for the National Maritime Heritage Grant Program for FY 2022. This was an increase over the $5M we requested last year. No grants have been awarded since the 2017–18 grant cycle. Maritime heritage professionals and supporters across the country joined us in reaching out to representatives in the US House and Senate. Our champion in this effort is Rep. Brian Higgins (NY) of Buffalo, assisted by his legislative director, Lyndsey Barnes. Despite our efforts, Congress did not provide funding for the grant program in the 2022 budget. It was a difficult year to secure grant funding. The continued presence of COVID-19 eliminated opportunities to meet face to face with members and staff on Capitol Hill. Changes in congressional procedure were also a factor. Floor amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act were not accepted, which is how our funding requests have been authorized in the past. On the positive side, serious discussions occurred for the first time within the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on funding the grant program. Both committee reports included statements pointing out the benefits of the grant program, while recognizing there were funding issues to be addressed. The House Appropriations Committee Report states: When MARAD (the Maritime Administration, part of the US Department of Transportation) completes the sale of obsolete vessels through the ship disposal program, the receipts from the sales are deposited into the vessel operations revolving fund (VORF). MARAD distributes funding from the VORF according to the authorized purposes and allocations in section 308704 of title 54, United States Code, when vessel sale proceeds are no longer subject to claims and the recycling contract is closed. The National Maritime Heritage Act established the national maritime heritage grants program, which receives a portion of such funds. The Committee understands that in recent years the proceeds from such sales 34

courtesy lyndsey barnes


Maritime heritage champion Rep. Brian Higgins (NY), joins two Navy veterans and Paul Marzello (right), CEO of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park. In the background is the park’s National Historic Landmark destroyer, USS The Sullivans, which required emergency hull repairs last fall after nearly sinking at her moorings. have been insufficient for the National Park Service (NPS) to conduct an annual grant cycle for the national maritime heritage grants program. The Committee further notes that the NPS is expected to accept proposals for the next round of grants. The Committee directs MARAD to continue to work with the NPS to ensure that the portion of the VORF allocated for the national maritime heritage grants program under section 308704(b)(1)(A) of title 54, United States Code, is distributed in a timely fashion. The Senate Appropriations Committee Report states: With the increasing cost of scrap steel, the Committee expects MARAD (the Maritime Administration) to ensure it is able to secure the highest price possible from vessels recycled through the ship disposal program. Funds received from the sale of scrap metal are deposited into the vessel operations revolving fund [VORF], which periodically distributes funding to the national maritime heritage grants program. The Committee supports use of funding from the VORF for these grants since maritime heritage attractions are vital to local economies and provide educational and engagement opportunities. Although the House and Senate committees did not appropriate the $10 million requested to address the problem, both recognized the necessity for reliable support for the grants program. This will help us in future requests for support. The National Maritime Heritage Grant Program is a problem in need of a solution. We gained additional supporters in the House and Senate this year. Some members endorsed a bipartisan letter circulated in the House of Representatives by Rep. Brian Higgins and Rep. Greg Murphy (NC). On short notice, several members signed on: Reps. Joe Courtney (CT), Elaine Luria (VA), Jared Golden (ME), SEA HISTORY 178, SPRING 2022

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