$1.7 trillion federal spending bill includes wins for preservation

Congress entered 2023 gridlocked, with House Republicans in the throes of internecine rivalry as they voted for a new Speaker of the House. But in the last days of 2022, federal lawmakers came together to avert a government shutdown and pass a $1.7 trillion omnibus appropriations bill, which President Joe Biden signed on Dec. 29 while vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands. If you were traveling during the holidays — or snowed in at the airport — here’s a quick recap of how the 4,155-page spending bill will advance the bipartisan goal of historic preservation.

The omnibus makes available $204.5 million for “expenses necessary for carrying out the National Historic Preservation Act” through September 2024. These include $26.5 million for Save America’s Treasures grants; $29 million to preserve sites and stories of the Civil Rights movement; $12.5 million in grants for the restoration of sites qualifying for the National Register of Historic Places; and $11 million for preservation at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Provisions lifted from the African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act were embedded in the bill on page 2,954. The Preservation Resource Center joined more than 150 organizations nationwide to support those provisions, and we are grateful to U.S. Rep Troy Carter for co-patroning the legislation. The newly established program will make grants to states and nonprofits to document and interpret the cemeteries and burial places of African Americans. In addition to helping preserve the full history of our nation, the program aims to minimize conflicts over the location of infrastructure and other development by proactively identifying burial grounds. The National Park Service is now authorized to make $3 million in grants annually between 2023 and 2027.

Additionally, the omnibus bill directed the Internal Revenue Service to distinguish between donations of historic preservation easements, those for “certified historic structures” under the National Register of Historic Places, and land or open space conservation easements. In recent years, IRS efforts to prosecute abusive practices involving syndicated easements, typically on farmland or open space, have led to frequent and costly audits of both donors and nonprofits. The change clarifies that easements placed on certified historic structures will be treated differently than those on land with respect to certain financial ratios and holding needs. This is particularly relevant to historic preservation easements placed on multi-owner commercial historic buildings that would have otherwise been treated similarly to syndicated land easements.

The bill also establishes a Japanese American World War II History Network, enables the 20-acre expansion of the National Historic Preservation Training Center in Maryland, and authorizes several new memorials within the District of Columbia.

Nathan Lott is PRC’s Policy Research Director and Advocacy Coordinator.

Photo: Holt Cemetery in New Orleans. Photo by Charles E. Leche.