Happy New Year from your NRPA public policy team. From hosting multiple briefings on Capitol Hill to events with members of Congress in your parks and rec centers, we had an extremely eventful 2015! Here is where we stand moving into the presidential election year in 2016.
Health and Wellness
During the past year, NRPA dedicated itself to passing health and wellness legislation on Capitol Hill that supports the great work our members do. Passage of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) was our No. 1 health and wellness priority and remains at the heart of our legislative efforts in Congress.
To keep up the momentum, NRPA held several congressional briefings featuring our members — allowing CNR authors to hear about the 560 million meals we serve every year, and our commitment to equity in everything we do, directly from park and recreation professionals. These personal stories were critical in shaping debate about the legislation and showing Congress that NRPA is committed to improving public health and ending summer hunger.
NRPA also weighed in on a bevy of diverse issues ranging from afterschool and summer learning funding, to changes in overtime pay requirements, funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), using the tax code to reduce the cost of physical activities, arthritis research and improving the safety of kids playing Pop Warner football.
Congress has delayed taking major action on our target health and wellness initiatives (CNR, the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act and the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF)), but your efforts to amplify NRPA’s advocacy efforts have still paid dividends. A reauthorization of the Older Americans Act was passed in the U.S. Senate earlier this year. In addition, members of Congress now consider NRPA a legitimate resource and authority, and look to us for input before enacting health policy.
Congress overwhelmingly approved a five-year reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Act (MAP-21), which President Obama signed into law December 4. The new law is known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. Key components include:
The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) was moved into the Surface Transportation Program (STP) and is now called the “STP set-aside.” All core elements of TAP, including the important Recreational Trails Program (RTP), remain intact, including the same types of eligible projects and a competitive funding process.
“Complete Streets Lite” language, in which the Secretary of Transportation shall “encourage” states to adopt standards for the safe and adequate accommodation of all users, motorized and non-motorized, in all phases of planning, development and operation of transportation facilities.
A new National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety program will provide about $14 million a year for bicycle and pedestrian safety in states that have a 15 percent or higher share of bike/pedestrian fatalities. It funds awareness, education and enforcement.
The NACTO Urban Street Design manual, which includes more progressive designs to accommodate bicycle and pedestrian users and facilities, can now be used.
The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan eligibility threshold is now down to $10 million, which should help fund more active transportation projects. Unfortunately, the program is facing a 70 percent cut in annual funding (from $1 billion down to $275 million).
On a disappointing note, the very popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, which historically has been managed as a separate U.S. Department of Transportation initiative, was not included as part of the FAST Act.
Congress finally approved an updated early childhood education law that will now be called the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” After almost a decade of advocacy efforts to include environmental education in the overhaul, we are thrilled that the new law will provide:
- $1.6 billion in federal funding for grants promoting “well-rounded education,” including environmental education.
- $1 billion in afterschool grants for programs, including environmental literacy.
- STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) funding for programs, including “hands-on learning” and “field-based or service learning.”
These achievements indicate that environmental education has become an accepted and anticipated component of a student’s overall education. More students across the nation will be engaged in outdoor learning and in action projects.
Federal funding will now go to partnership programs involving school systems and outside public and private organizations. Most important, park and recreation agencies are specifically listed as eligible partners to receive funding.
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
NRPA was thrilled that a three-year reauthorization of the LWCF was included in the broad “Omnibus” federal spending package approved by Congress that will keep the government operating through September 2016. In addition, Congress appropriated $110 million dollars for the state assistance program, which includes $12 million for an urban competitive grant program, the largest allocation for the state assistance program since 2002.
In NRPA’s 50th year, we revamped our advocacy efforts by empowering our members to be park and recreation advocates on their home turf through our Park Champion initiative. In what became the summer of Park Champion advocacy, our Park Champions took the pledge and ran with this new grassroots, show-and-tell advocacy model, hosting events across the country.
We’re excited to expand on the 2015 Summer of Park Champion Advocacy by making 2016 the year of Park Champion advocacy. We’ll be using the full 2016 congressional calendar to help our Park Champions identify strategic dates year-round to host their U.S. representatives and senators at events that highlight their park and recreation department and programs. The Park Champion show-and-tell advocacy model is ideal during the 2016 elections, as your federal elected officials will be eager to get out and be seen in their home states and districts.
This past summer, we were floored by the motivation and creativity of the Park Champions who stepped up in the first year of the initiative. Help us meet our goal and make 2016 the year of Park Champion advocacy by signing the Park Champion pledge or contacting Jayni Rasmussen.
As we move forward into 2016, NRPA’s Public Policy Team will continue to make sure the voices of park and recreation professionals are heard on Capitol Hill and that Congress continues to support all Americans by supporting parks.