Policy Activity Ramping Up This Fall

October 11, 2019

Federal Arts and Culture Funding increases in store for FY20?

In late September, the Senate Interior Subcommittee on Appropriations approved a recommendation for a $2 million increase to the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the same increase for the National Endowment for the Humanities for fiscal year 2020. The House of Representatives approved a larger increase for a total $167.5 million each, which would match the funding level of the agencies from ten years ago, without accounting for inflation. Currently, the federal government is operating on a continuing resolution through November 21. Arts advocates can contact their elected officials to encourage a compromise closer to the House-recommended increase, which matches the level advocates have been putting forward since the spring.

Federal funding for arts education is looking steady, with the House recommending a $6 million increase for the Arts in Education program at the U.S. Department of Education, while the Senate recommends funding of "no less than the fiscal year 2019 level" for arts education activities in the Arts in Education program (currently funded at $29 million). While both chambers' recommendations fall short of the $40 million that arts advocates have been requesting, the Senate's recommendation helpfully includes a note expressing concern about the "recent and sudden changes to the proposed NAEP schedule," which the League reported in August. The League and more than 200 organizations have publicly called for the immediate reinstatement of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in the Arts, the only continuing national measure that captures what students know and are able to do in the arts within public and private school.

TAKE NOTE! Changes for Int'l guest artist visas and CWA

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has just released a new form I-129 in connection with a new rule regarding non-U.S. citizens accessing public benefits in the U.S. Beginning with a postmark of October 15, 2019, all form I-129 petitions (used for O and P guest artists as well as several other visa classifications) must use the new edition of the form. USCIS has made clear that it will not accept older versions of the form if postmarked on or after October 15. The form contains a new section, "Part 6. Information About The Beneficiary's Public Benefits," that must be completed by petitioners when the beneficiary or beneficiaries are seeking an extension of stay or change of status. However, all petitioners must use this new form, even if filing for new employment or amended status. Please review the new instructions for completing the latest I-129 to learn about the documentation requirements, exceptions, and complete details relating to the new Public Benefits section of the form, and find additional details on the artistsfromabroad.org website.

On the payment side of the process of engaging guest artists from abroad, the IRS held an informational webinar last month previewing a new form to be used for what they are calling the "Simplified CWA." This form, which launched October 7th, reinstates the eligibility for international artists earning less than $10,000 in a calendar year to apply for a Central Withholding Agreement (CWA), by which the IRS estimates the actual tax the artist will owe on a tour or series of events. The advantage of the CWA is that the tax estimation, which is withheld from the artist's income, tends to be far less than the otherwise 30% of the artist's gross income the IRS directs to be withheld. The League has provided fresh guidance, and orchestras may wish to consult a tax professional conversant in foreign artist withholding to determine whether to apply for the simplified CWA on behalf of guest artists.

Overtime threshold raised in new DOL rules

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a final rule raising the minimum threshold for "salaried" employees and thus expanding the number of workers eligible for overtime pay. Starting January 1, 2020, the "standard salary level" will be raised from $455 to $684 per week ($35,568 annually). This new minimum threshold will not automatically update with inflation, and states may set their own overtime rules to established thresholds above the new federal requirements.

In addition to raising the standard salary level, the DOL's final rule allows employers to use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments that are paid at least annually to satisfy up to 10% of the standard salary level. The total annual compensation level for "highly compensated employees" (HCE) will also increase from $100,000 to $107,432 per year, but the Department is not making any changes to the standard or HCE duties test. The League has posted further background on this topic, including links to DOL resources, such as a fact sheet, answers to frequently asked questions, and compliance guide, on our Overtime Update webpage.

Nonprofit tax policy under discussion with year-end giving in the spotlight 

Nonprofit advocates are rallying to remind Congress of urgently-needed policy solutions to resolve problems in the wake of tax reform provisions. Momentum continues to build on the Hill to undo the Unrelated Business Income Tax on parking and commuting benefits that was created by comprehensive tax reform signed into law in December 2017, resulting in significant new costs to orchestras and the broader nonprofit sector. As Congress considers a must-pass package of tax policy extenders, orchestras can weigh in to urge the repeal of the UBIT provision. And, with year-end giving season soon upon us, nonprofit advocates are speaking up to urge Congress to support giving incentives for all tax payers.

Below: Earlier this week, the League's VP for Advocacy Heather Noonan joined nonprofit advocates from Goodwill Industries Intl, United Way Worldwide, the Y, Independent Sector, and the Pew Charitable Trusts to ask Congressional leaders to #protectgiving.