As the threat looms of President Trump’s possible elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), it’s worth considering their budgets in a broader context. I was getting at this when, in my news story about the plan, I compared the $148 million that each federal agency currently receives to the Department of Defense’s $607 billion. Snopes pointed out in its report on the same news that the NEA and NEH endowments each account for just 0.003% of the 2016 federal budget. Others are going about it in more creative ways.
The New York Times, for instance, cleverly visualized how relatively little federal money goes to the two agencies, as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is being threatened with privatization, via a series of well-placed dots. And yesterday on Twitter, Ryan Chapman, managing director of marketing and digital projects for Bomb magazine, suggested the NEA budget is half of what it might cost — in taxpayer money — for Melania and Barron Trump to remain in New York City while Donald moves to the White House.
Understandably, Chapman’s tweet went viral, so I decided to look into his numbers a little. The current budget of the NEA is $148 million. The estimated cost for Melania and Barron comes from a CNN Money piece published not long after the election that cites three New York City officials who say the city is paying “more than $1 million a day” to protect Trump and his family. “Those costs won’t necessarily drop significantly once he moves to the White House,” the piece notes. “That’s because Melania Trump and their 10-year-old son Barron expect to stay at their home at Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, at least until the end of the school year. And Donald Trump has indicated he plans to return home regularly, especially while they’re still here.”
If we’re generous and round down to $1 million a day, that means one year’s worth of security for the Trumps costs $365 million. That is, in fact, more than double the NEA budget — it’s a 146.6% increase.
It’s worth noting that the security sum will likely end up being a combination of city and federal money, whereas the NEA appropriation is entirely federal. But perhaps most important is that neither number is fixed: the cost of protecting the Trumps is a rough estimate for an unprecedented situation and will likely change, while the NEA’s budget may be reduced or nixed all together. Perhaps the only certainty here is that the US government does not spend a lot of money on art.