Historic Preservation Fund - Brief Overview

The Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) helps State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices to recognize, save, and protect historic places in communities all over the United States.

The resources provided by the HPF have been used to rescue and rehabilitate significant historic sites, revitalize communities and create opportunities for economic growth. Preservation of these sites and objects strengthens local economies by encouraging tourism and creating jobs, and guarantees that future generations can learn from past generations accomplishments and tragic mistakes. Reviews of federal projectssurveying and inventorying America’s historic resources, and the successful administration of key programs such the National Register of Historic Places and the Historic Tax Credit Program are the main tools for historic preservation. The State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices have the primary responsibility for administering these and other preservation programs and because of this they are also the primary recipients of HPF funding.

Historic Preservation Fund - History & Additional Background

The HPF does not use tax-payer dollars – The unique legislation creating the HPF was signed into law on September 28, 1976 providing for a relatively small portion of the royalties that energy companies pay for the right to drill for oil and natural gas on the federally owned Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to be used to partner with states (and later, tribes) to preserve the places that tell America’s story. As a federal-state partnership, states are required to match HPF funds a minimum of 40%.

The HPF must be periodically reauthorized by Congress and it is subject to the annual appropriations process. In December of 2016, Congress reauthorized the HPF for seven years. The chart below shows the HPF amount appropriated by Congress since its inception in 1976.

As the chart indicates, funding for the HPF rose steadily in the first few years but then decreased drastically starting in 1980. The HPF experienced incremental increases through the 1990’s and then more than doubled in funding from $40.8 million in 1998 to $81.2 million in 1999 and continued to increase steadily for the next few years. The bulk of this dramatic increase was the result of $35 million allocated for the creation of the Save America’s Treasures Program, $10 million for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and small increases for SHPOs and THPOs. Funding for Save America’s Treasures was eliminated in 2011, however, by 2017 funding started to return – along with several grant programs designed for helping to preserve historic properties in rural communities, to recognize sites associated with the fight for Civil Rights, and for listing properties of underrepresented populations on the National Register of Historic Places.

The HPF is not used for acquisition –  The HPF provides state and local entities with the resources they need to enable both public and private preservation efforts. Since 1976 the HPF has facilitated nearly 90,000 listings on the National Register, the survey of millions of acres for cultural resources, and $162 billion in private investment through the Historic Tax Credit – which has enabled the rehabilitation of more than 44,000 historic buildings and created 2.7 million local jobs.  It has also helped states and tribes to bring the voices of citizens to federal decision making through the Section 106 process.

The Historic Preservation Fund - Today

For fiscal year 2020, Congress provided a total of $118.6 million from the HPF. Of this amount, $52.675 million was awarded to State Historic Preservation Officers and $13.735 million for Tribal Historic Preservation Officers. Congress also provided $750,000 for projects that will increase diversity in the National Register of Historic Places and in the National Historic Landmarks programs, $18 million for sites associated with the struggle for Civil Rights, $16 million for Save America’s Treasures, $10 million for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and $7.5 million for a grant program for projects in rural communities.

Legislative News

Congress has increased SHPO apportionments every year since Fiscal Year 2017. While we greatly appreciate this commitment to preserving historic resources, the current funding has not kept pace with the increase in SHPO’s federally delegated responsibilities.

The $3 million increase in Fiscal Year 2020 and previous increases, do not offset the level funding of SHPO apportionments from Fiscal Year 2009 through Fiscal Year 2016. Overall, the increases to SHPOs have also not kept pace with the overall increase in HPF funding. In Fiscal Year 2016, SHPO apportionments accounted for 72% of the total HPF. In Fiscal Year 2020, SHPO apportionments account for 44% of the total HPF. A July 2019 Congressional Research Service report on National Park Service Appropriations Ten-Year Trends, noted, “The largest activity in the HPF account is grant funding for state historic preservation offices, which declined by 9% in inflation-adjusted terms over the decade.”

Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs) are in the same situation. Although there have been increases in THPO apportionments, these increases have neither kept up with the demand nor have they kept up with the overall increases in the HPF.

It is important that we remind lawmakers and their staff that SHPOs and THPOs are the backbone of historic preservation in America and need to be appropriately funded. It is very important that Congress provide SHPOs and THPOs with sustainable funding increases. This is particularly important at a time when SHPO workloads are increasing while many states struggle with funding decreases as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.