Backgrounder: Funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities

“The arts and humanities teach us who we are and what we can be.
They lie at the very core of the culture of which we’re a part.” 
(President Ronald Reagan, June 18, 1987)

Created by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) “supports scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.”  For more than 50 years the agency has funded programs to strengthen teaching and learning in schools and colleges, facilitate research and original scholarship, and preserve and provide access to cultural and educational resources, serving as a catalyst for many projects that, as President Reagan noted, have taught us who we are and what we can be.

Although the NEH was funded at a modest $146.02 million in 2014 and 2015 (cut significantly from previous years), the Trump Administration’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018 includes no funding for this critically important agency.

The Society of American Archivists (SAA)[1] strongly urges Congress to consider the long-term impact of such an action and to retain funding of at least $142.6 million for NEH in Fiscal Year 2018.

As in all things, money matters. The cultural economy is critically important to the economic health of thousands of communities around the country. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that the arts and cultural sector is a $704 billion industry, 4.2% of the nation’s GDP. NEH contributes, at a very small federal cost, to the quality of life in every congressional district in the United States, funding repositories with archives collections, including academic institutions, local and state governments, museums, and public libraries.

NEH grants catalyze private investment. Small organizations leverage NEH grants to attract additional private, local support. NEH’s Challenge Grant program has leveraged federal funds at a 3:1 ratio to enable organizations to raise more than $3 billion in private support. State Humanities Councils, meanwhile, leverage $5 for every dollar of federal investment. Grants through the Public Programs division have leveraged more than $16 billion in non-federal support at an 8:1 ratio.

NEH’s programs teach essential skills and habits—including reading, writing, critical thinking, and effective communication—that are crucial for ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to learn and become a productive member of society. Employers increasingly seek employees who can combine the cultural knowledge and analytical ability fostered by these programs with technical knowledge and scientific research fostered by STEM education to create innovation and economic growth.

Through a rigorous peer-review process, the NEH funds cutting-edge research, museum exhibits that reach all parts of the country, and cultural preservation of local heritage that would otherwise be lost.

As just one example of this important work:  NEH’s Standing Together initiative funds reading groups for veterans that help them process their experiences through discussions on the literature of war; writing programs for veterans suffering from PTSD; and training for Veterans Affairs staff to help them better serve veterans.  (For more examples of NEH’s impact, please see

Among the most significant results of NEH’s work is the steady growth of our national commitment to cultural resources.  In 1981, President Reagan established a Presidential Task Force on the Arts and the Humanities and charged it with “developing ideas to stimulate increased private giving for cultural activities.” The Task Force recommended continuing the existing NEH structure. In 2002, President George W. Bush launched We the People, an NEH initiative to encourage the teaching, studying, and understanding of American history and culture.

The agency has partnered successfully throughout its history with state humanities councils established in every state and territory, as well as local and state governments and private foundations, to focus on access to humanities resources for all. Its reach is broad and has high impact.

Without NEH’s leadership, Americans’ understanding of our cultural heritage would be greatly diminished. Without the National Endowment for the Humanities, the United States will be sorely challenged to understand who we are and what we can be.

The Society of American Archivists is the oldest and largest national professional association of archivists in North America, representing more than 6,200 archivists employed by businesses, universities, governments, libraries, and historical organizations. Archivists are the professionals who collect, preserve, and make available for research historically significant documents, vital records, and other materials. Read more at

Posted June 15, 2017.