With sequestration caps pushed aside for now, and a spare $50 billion to spend, Congress is in a mad dash to pass a spending package and avoid another shutdown before December 11, 2015.
Since 2011, sequestration has wreaked havoc on state and local budgets and has threatened important investments in parks and recreation that keep Americans healthy and protect the integrity of our air, land and water.
As a result, NRPA priorities including the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) State Assistance Program, the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF), obesity and arthritis prevention efforts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and child nutrition programs have been decimated.
The loss of crucial federal dollars for these important programs forced park and recreation agencies to work with paper-thin staff and budgets to meet the urgent needs of the community – to provide meals for hungry seniors and children, to provide afterschool programs that get kids active and healthy, to provide active outdoor recreation opportunities and so much more.
Yet, in the last four years, and since the enactment of sequestration, local officials have had to ask tough questions:
Do we prioritize recreation funding, afterschool programs, or public health research?
Do we let go of firefighters and teachers, park and recreation professionals, or employees at the public health research clinics?
It is already well known that local parks contribute to healthier communities, bring diverse populations together, and support environmental conservation and stewardship. They are important public assets that improve quality of life.
Park and recreation agencies weren’t the cause of America’s budget woes. On the contrary, a new economic impact report from NRPA shows local and regional public parks spur the local economy and generate nearly $140 billion in economic activity annually and support nearly 1 million jobs.
We believe that Congress must seize the chance, over the next five weeks, to boost funding for important park and recreation priorities including the LWCF State Assistance Program, PPHF and meals for seniors and children. And we need you to urge your elected officials as they finalize the upcoming 2016 spending package to invest in the programs that support the important work you do and that help create vibrant, thriving communities.
The debate in Congress these next couple of weeks is crucial for parks and recreation. We’ve shared in the losses over the last few years and now it’s time for parks and recreation agencies to share in the gains.
Share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us @NRPA_News. You can also tweet a message about the spending package right to your elected officials!
Oliver Spurgeon III is NRPA's manager of government affairs.