National Heritage Area
The legislation extends a prior authorization sunset date for the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area for an additional 7 years.
Many programs have such sunset dates.
Here’s how it works for us. Our original authorizing legislation (1996) included both a sunset date and a funding cap. Its passage opened the opportunity to compete with other designated national heritage areas for federal funding on an annual basis.
For us, the original sunset date was federal fiscal year 2012; the funding cap was $10 million. Other considerations included an obligation to match any awarded funds with a minimum $1 local match for every federal dollar. We could not request more than $1 million in any one year. All spending was restricted to meet the mission/goals of the heritage area as annunciated in the legislation and expressed in a Management Plan.
Basically, the sunset date restricts federal spending. Programs are prohibited to seek federal funds past any sunset date. The funding cap was previously extended to $15 million. Since 2012, we have faced an annual challenge of having our elected Congressional Representatives and/or Senators include short extension language into legislation so that we could continue to seek portions of the federal funding still available within our extended cap.
There are other consequences which accompany “sunsetting.” Congress determined that any national heritage area that faced an imminent sunset date would require an independent evaluation to ensure that the federal investment was meeting the goals of the legislation, including the obligation of local match funding. This evaluation would include a recommendation for future National Park Service involvement. In addition, sunsetting heritage areas were required to close out any awarded funds within 1 year of their official sunset date. Prior to this policy, all federal funds were treated as “5 year money” – in other words, we had 5 years to spend the funds. This change in operations placed a strain on our grantees to close their projects.
As we continue to move forward in the build-out of the Ohio & Erie Canalway, we will face the next challenge – extending the funding cap. The good news for us is that we have undergone the independent evaluation and the results are all positive. We have met and exceeded our requirements.