Prioritizing Progress: PRPS Advocates for Legislative Action to Enhance Parks and Recreation in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society views these legislative issues as the most important items members can address, and encourages active engagement with local legislators to help benefit the future of parks, recreation and conservation in Pennsylvania.
updated: February 2, 2023
Commonwealth Legislative Priorities
Permanent and Stable Funding for Parks and Recreation
Parks and recreation is not just fun and games—it’s how communities thrive. It is indispensable, year-round services like meals distribution, emergency management, and environmental sustainability. It is personal health and community wellness, and social connections to nature and neighborhoods. It is economic stimulation, community resilience, and so much more. See full statement.
Preschool Recreation and Childcare Facility Certification
The PA Department of Human Services regulations for childcare center facilities now extend by interpretation to public preschool recreation programs. The agency’s actions have forced some municipal preschool programs to close, while others operate under threat of fines or cease and desist orders. Recreation professionals already meet the safety and child protection regulations that the law requires. Yet other aspects of facility certification requirements do not distinguish between a for-profit childcare center and a public recreation program.
PRPS supports a bipartisan legislation that would amend the Human Services Code to exempt public preschool programs from certification requirements as preschool child day care center facilities provided the municipality adopts by ordinance or resolution the PRPS Protocol for Public Preschool Recreation Programs.
Limited liability for volunteers and volunteer organizations
PRPS supports bipartisan legislation that amends the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act to provide limited liability protections against frivolous lawsuits for park friends’ groups, trail groups and other volunteer organizations. These lawsuits, often filed simply because an organization has a park or trail in its name, have contributed to rising liability insurance costs that divert scarce resources away from projects that benefit the community. Several organizations have even been forced to disband because they could not obtain liability insurance after being sued.
Trails, Greenways and Connections to Parks
PRPS supports developing innovative programs to address the challenges of Pennsylvania’s recreation, park and trails in all communities, especially those with limited or nonexistent access as shown in the Pennsylvania State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan outdoor recreation need analysis. PRPS works to assist the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and other stakeholders in helping to close critical gaps in trails and quantity of parks, proximity of parks, and connection to parks, all while ensuring that these places are safe, inclusive, culturally relevant and welcoming for everyone.
Defending and Promoting Parks and Recreation
PRPS warns against misuse or inappropriate development or conversion of public parks. PRPS works to defend against proposals to defund, misappropriate, cut or divert funding for parks, recreation and conservation. PRPS advocates for greater popular recognition of the essential nature of park and recreation services, and a wider influence in urban planning, economic development, community resilience, and addressing societal problems.
Heritage Areas and Historic Preservation
Funding for heritage areas and historic preservation has not increased for nearly 20 years. PRPS favors a boost in funding to better leverage Pennsylvania’s significant historical assets for recreation and tourism related benefits.
Recreational Therapy Licensure and Scope of Practice Protection Legislation
Recreational therapy contributes to the broad spectrum of healthcare through treatment, education and the provision of structured recreational opportunities. These factors are instrumental to improving and maintaining physical, cognitive, emotional, and social functioning; preventing secondary health conditions; enhancing independent living skills; and improving overall quality of life. Recreational therapists help people get better and experience healthy recreation and leisure activities by guiding them through goal-oriented, structured recreation activities.
PRPS supports forthcoming legislation that will provide recreational therapists in Pennsylvania with the opportunity to be professionally licensed by the Commonwealth provided they meet certain requirements. Professional licensure also brings scope of practice protection, thus protecting the investments of time and money that recreational therapists make in their education and training. As of November 2022, there were 882 recreational therapists in Pennsylvania who possessed the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist certification given by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification.
PRPS works to educate elected and appointed government officials on the many and varied benefits of PA’s outstanding recreation, parks, trails, and conservation programs and facilities.
See recent legislative action alerts and updates on Pennsylvania legislation affecting parks, recreation and conservation on our Take Action page, including:
- Municipal Preschool Recreation
- Limited liability for volunteers and volunteer organizations
- Sustainable, long-term funding for community and state parks, trails, recreation centers and other recreation facilities
- Patient access to diagnostics and treatments for tick-borne diseases
- Recreational Therapy licensure and scope of practice
Federal Legislative Priorities
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
The Land and Water Conservations Fund (LWCF) has protected our nation’s natural resources while providing recreation opportunities for all Americans for over 50 years. Thanks to the continued efforts of our [parks and rec] advocates, Congress permanently authorized LWCF in 2019 and then permanently funded it 2020, thus establishing this program as the nation’s most important conservation funding stream for public lands throughout the country. NRPA supports robust funding through the annual federal appropriations process, including maintaining 40 percent dedicated funding for the state assistance program and investing in the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program, which is an urban parks focused competitive grant program.
Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administers The Community Development Block Grants. These grants support local community development activities aimed at neighborhood revitalization, economic development, and improvement of community facilities, such as parks and recreation. Historically this program has provided up to $100 million annually for park and recreation infrastructure.
Civilian Conservation Corps Relaunch
By revitalizing the CCC to include job opportunities on public and private lands, temporary employment through the government may provide natural infrastructure repair. These opportunities would include skills development that will prepare participants for existing or new jobs. The program would be of limited duration and extendable depending on the duration of the recession.
Active transportation refers to human-propelled modes of transportation like walking or cycling. Multi-modal transportation systems, such as walking to a subway, make communities more accessible, people healthier, and environments cleaner by reducing pollution and the heat island effect. Active transportation systems can be particularly beneficial to Black, Brown, and low-income communities, which have often borne the brunt of pollution.
PRPS supports providing resources to local communities to expand public greenways that build networks of sidewalks, bike lanes and paths, investing in the accessibility and health of local communities. We call upon Congress to protect and maintain programs that connect communities, make streets safer, and promote healthy modes of transportation. Specifically, as Congress debate the reauthorization of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, PRPS urges that Congress support the Transportation Alternatives Program, including the Recreational Trails Program and Safe Routes to Schools. Combined, these programs provide approximately $800 million annually for bike and pedestrian projects and safety in local communities. PRPS also supports The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which provides low-cost loans to local communities.
Health and Wellness
Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR)
Congress reauthorizes federal child nutrition programs, including the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), through the Child Nutrition Act every five years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers these programs and reimburses after-school and summer meal programs. Park and recreation agencies are the largest public provider of healthy meals and snacks to children outside of schools.The current CNR authorization — the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 — expired in 2015, but the programs continue to operate under level funding. Congress is expected to consider this legislation sometime over the next two years. PRPS supports investing in these vital federal programs that reduce childhood insecurity and strengthen families. Kids should be having fun over the summer, not worrying about where their next meal is coming from.
Chronic Disease Prevention and Management
NRPA, with the support of the CDC Arthritis Program, is funded directly to disseminate arthritis-appropriate evidence-based physical activity programs to improve the quality of life among people with arthritis and contribute to reductions in both arthritis-related medical costs and lost earnings. Because of these efforts, some 300 park and rec agencies across 48 states and American Samoa have offered more than 700 Arthritis- Appropriate Evidence-Based Intervention (AAEBI) courses to close to 20,000 participants. In addition, more than 2 million people across the country have been exposed to marketing materials promoting AAEBIs in park and recreation settings.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) within the U.S. Department of Justice administers a federally funded Youth Mentoring Grant Program. The Youth Mentoring Grant Program is a critical support for young people throughout the country who are at-risk of entering the juvenile justice system. The program serves to act as a prevention and intervention strategy for young people at times when they are the most likely to need support, help hundreds of thousands of young people achieve positive academic, professional and personal outcomes; and deter young people away from negative and risky behaviors, including drug abuse.
Park and recreation agencies deliver out-of-school time programming that provides support to local children facing the many challenges of growing up, with 34 percent of agencies focusing their programming on youth mentoring and 18 percent of agencies focusing their programming on substance use prevention.
Resource: Congressional Leave Behind: Youth Mentoring Grant Program
Out-of-School Time Programming
The 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) program is the only federal grant program that supports summer and afterschool learning programs. Administered by the US Department of Education, 21st CCLC supports the establishment of local community-based educational programs for children in out-of-school time settings, particularly for low-income areas.
Park and recreation agencies provide safe places where kids can go when they are not in school. Local park and recreation agencies’ out-of-school time (OST) programs are leading providers of childcare in our nation — 84 percent offer summer camps; 63 percent, programming targeted specifically to teens; 55 percent, after-school programming; more than half, OST Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) activities that focus on the environment and project-based learning. These OST programs provide low-income households accessible, affordable, and safe spaces for their children to learn, have fun and grow.