When we learned that the Administration had proposed a budget that would result in cutting the Fulbright Program in half — by 47% — for Fiscal Year 2018, the Fulbright Association launched an aggressive campaign on June 7 to “Stand for Fulbright.” We asked our members and supporters to write and call their members of the House and Senate, and to sign a petition urging full funding of the Program. We encouraged chapters nationwide to visit district and state offices to share their Fulbright experiences with their representatives.
The results have been astounding, and we are deeply grateful to our community for its forceful response. In less than two weeks, Fulbrighters had contacted over 90% of all members of the House and Senate, showing our extraordinary geographical reach and activism. Nearly 11,000 people have signed our petition. The hashtag #StandForFulbright, used to connect stories of impact worldwide, has had over 1.8 million impressions on social media.
Here in Washington, we have been reinforcing this grassroots effort with visits to many Congressional offices, including those of Senator Dick Durbin (IL), Representative Jamie Raskin (MD), Senator Chris Van Hollen (MD), and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In our conversations, we make the same arguments you have shared with us: that the Fulbright Program promotes American leadership, strengthens national security, fuels local economies, deepens international alliances, and benefits U.S. higher education. Such unified messaging is powerful.
Our voices have been heard. On July 19, the House Appropriations Committee voted to fund the Fulbright Program at $236 million for Fiscal Year 2018, following the recommendations of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee. This matches the funding level for Fiscal Year 2016, down slightly from the $240 million level at which the Program was funded in Fiscal Year 2017. While we have been asking for $250 million, we are delighted to see the House set aside the 47% cut proposal and maintain the Program. More information on the appropriations bill is here.
But we are not out of the woods yet. The full House is now debating the federal budget and has not yet voted on this appropriations bill. The Senate will not act until September. The outcome for all appropriations remains uncertain, as Congress has resorted to “Continuing Resolutions,” rather than traditional appropriations, to fund the government for years. While it’s reassuring that a powerful House committee has endorsed (nearly) full funding, we must remain active and vigilant.
Please continue to reach out to your members of the House and Senate. Join your local chapter in visiting district and state offices during the August recess. And register to join us in Washington from November 4-7 for our National Conference and Advocacy Day. We will conclude the conference on November 7 with visits to dozens of offices all over Capitol Hill, as we did in March.
These visits are especially effective and powerful when you visit your own representatives and senators. They take their job as your representative more seriously than any other consideration. But you have to be there to make a difference. Register today to make your voice heard — and to take advantage of our early bird registration discount, which is available through August 15!
Thank you for your enthusiastic activism as we continue to Stand for Fulbright.
—John Bader, Ph.D., Executive Director