Congress Examines Funding Needs for Research Impacts of Covid-19 Pandemic
Congress Examines Funding Needs for Research Impacts of Covid-19 Pandemic

September  2020

House and Senate committees overseeing science policy held hearings in September that included discussion and action on legislation that would provide emergency funding for research relief and recovery.

On September 9, the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing, “The Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on University Research.” Subcommittee members heard testimony from university leaders and a graduate student about their experiences with circumstances surrounding the pandemic that are affecting research productivity at institutions. The testimony also concerned support for students and early career scholars.

Subcommittee chair Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) highlighted in her opening testimony the importance of addressing how the pandemic has affected research.

“The impacts to our wider STEM pipeline could be devastating,” Stevens said. “Undergraduate students are missing out on critical hands-on training. Graduate students are worried there won’t be funding for them to finish their research projects and graduate. Post-docs and other early-career researchers are desperately searching for jobs in a severely contracted academic job market.”

Stevens, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX, chair and ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology), and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) expressed support for two bipartisan bills that would address the impact that Covid-19 has had on the research community.

The Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act (HR 7308/S 4286) includes $26 billion in emergency funding for research agencies—with $200 million for the Institute of Education Sciences and $3 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF)—to supplement additional costs and flexibility for research recovery. The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act (HR 8044) includes $250 million for a two-year pilot program at NSF providing grants to early career scholars. AERA has endorsed both bills.

During the hearing, the witnesses detailed the importance of emergency funding to support academic research.

  • Joseph Walsh, interim vice president for economic development and Innovation, University of Illinois System, discussed the need for Congress to pass the RISE Act to supplement the reduction in user fees for research equipment and to help compensate for the pandemic’s overall impact on productivity for scientists with young children.
  • David Stone, vice president for research, Oakland University, highlighted the impact of the pandemic on undergraduate research and the financial losses that regional universities are facing with loss in state revenues.
  • Theresa Mayer, executive vice president for research and partnerships, Purdue University, described how Purdue ramped down research at the beginning of the pandemic and has since worked toward reopening labs and resuming on-campus research.
  • Ryan Muzzio, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, discussed the challenges that he has faced, including the reduction of networking opportunities at conferences, inability to access international labs that are critical for his research, and difficulty conducting work with a team and training new students to use lab equipment with social distancing measures in place.

On September 16, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a markup hearing that included the consideration of the RISE Act. The committee advanced the bill on a voice vote, with one senator expressing opposition for the record.

In addition to these hearings, on September 29, House Democrats unveiled a new $2.2 trillion proposal for emergency funding to address the impact of the pandemic. The revised Heroes Act is a smaller version of a $3 trillion package that the House passed in May, and incorporates a compromise effort supported by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). The legislation includes several items related to research funding:

  • $32 million for the administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 4th and 8th grade math and reading. This amount is less than the $65 million in the HEALS Act advanced by Senate Republicans in July, but funding for NAEP was not in the initial Heroes Act.
  • $2.9 billion for the NSF, with $300 million for the Education and Human Resources Directorate and $2.6 billion for Research and Related Activities. Funding can be used for research related to Covid-19 as well as for the extension of existing grants, scholarships, and fellowships.
  • $4.7 billion for the National Institutes of Health for research related to Covid-19 and for shutdown and ramp-up costs at biomedical research laboratories.

The House has not announced a vote on this package, but the proposal is the next step in negotiations with the White House on additional emergency funding.

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