People all over are frustrated with Washington, D.C. So are we. Incentives for cooperation between our two major political parties are few and far between, and as the reins of Congress are about to be handed over to the Grand Old Party for the final two years of President Obama’s term, we anticipate more of the same old gridlock and finger pointing. So where does that leave us? Is all hope lost? Should we throw up our hands and walk away in frustration? As tempting as it may be, it’s time to flip the script. Traditionally we come to Washington looking for dollars and solutions. This year, we are going to be asking for our federal partners to either help or get out of the way. It’s time to shine the spotlight away from D.C. and onto the places around the country where government is working, and has to work.
As we gear up for the 114th Congress, we look forward to working with our members to tell our story on your turf (be it natural grass or artificial). Sharing and showing examples of federal-local partnerships on the ground will help us amplify that message here in D.C.
So skip the long flight and the security lines. Spend 2015 inviting your elected officials to join you for park openings, trail dedications, and summer and after-school meals programs to show elected officials that those dollars that come from Washington make a difference back home. We’re not asking for the federal government to pay for all of our infrastructure and programming, just to be a reliable and stable partner year in and year out so that park and recreation agencies can do their work transforming lives in their communities. You are innovating, and will continue to do so, but those dollars, programs and partnerships make your job easier and multiply the impact of your work. Next year, we’re focusing on three major programs up for reauthorization. Each has a long history of bipartisan support and will require some sort of action next year. Use your best assets — your parks, recreation centers, staff and community — to help our federal elected officials understand how you leverage federal dollars.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
The Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire in September 2015, and new leaders in the House and Senate are looking at major reforms to this 50-year-old program. The State Assistance Program, which funds state and community park and recreation projects across America, has received around $45 million annually. We’d like to see that number go way up. With new chairs of the Natural Resources Committee in both the House and Senate, we’ll have to work together to educate these leaders on the close-to-home impact that State Assistance has in every county in the U.S.
MAP-21 (AKA the Transportation Bill)
MAP-21, the primary source of federal funding for active transportation, is set to expire in May 2015. Last year, the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) distributed more than $900 million to communities across the country to fund bicycle and pedestrian projects, including the Recreational Trails Program. We’ll be fighting to maintain funding for TAP and Rec Trails. If you’ve received federal transportation dollars in the past and used them to fund development in your parks, make sure to show the outcome and impact of this funding to your elected officials.
Child Nutrition Reauthorization
The Child Nutrition Act is also set to be reauthorized in 2015. This traditionally bipartisan bill authorizes the USDA programs that provide funding for after-school and summer feeding programs delivered to children in almost every community. According to NRPA’s PRORAGIS™ data, park and recreation agencies provided more than 560 million meals to children in 2013. Earlier this year, we did a successful pilot congressional site visit in Minneapolis, where Rep. Keith Ellison saw how Minneapolis Parks and Recreation staff leverage these dollars to feed kids in their community.
As we continue to learn more about the new Congress, we’ll share more information to help arm you to tell your story back home. Despite our frustrations with the political climate and gridlock, we’ve got a lot of work to do, and we look forward to helping you tell your stories. Buckle up — it’s going to be a busy year.
Kevin O’Hara is NRPA’s Vice President of Urban and Government Affairs.