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Story Publication logo May 13, 2020

House Democrats Include Research Dollars in Latest Pandemic Relief Package

Volunteers from Indonesia's Red Cross prepare to spray disinfectant at a school closed amid the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Jakarta. Image by REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan. Indonesia, 2020.

Veteran public health journalists from Science magazine explore what science knows—and is learning...

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D – CA) and fellow Democrats are pushing for new COVID-19 relief funding to include research support. Image by Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons. United States, undated.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D – CA) and fellow Democrats are pushing for new COVID-19 relief funding to include research support. Image by Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons. United States, undated.

By week's end the Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives hopes to approve another massive coronavirus relief package.

For U.S. scientists, the good news is that the $3 trillion spending bill (H.R. 6800) unveiled last night contains billions of dollars in new research funding. The bad news is that the bill is only a marker for negotiations with Senate Republicans and the White House on what more the federal government should do to help the country deal with the devastating economic and health effects of the pandemic.

Most of the money in the House bill would be used to support research on COVID-19 or to offset its impact on federally funded research activities. But some would be available to strengthen the overall research enterprise.

Here are some research highlights in the so-called HEROES Act.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

NIH would receive $4.721 billion. Of that total, NIH Director Francis Collins would have authority over $4 billion, of which $3 billion could be spent for "offsetting the costs related to reductions in lab productivity resulting from the coronavirus pandemic or public health measures related to the coronavirus pandemic." An additional $1 billion would go "to support additional scientific research or the programs and platforms that support research." The National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases would receive $500 million, and the National Institute for Mental Health would get $200 million, "to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus."

National Science Foundation (NSF)

NSF would receive $125 million for grants to "prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus." House Democrats want NSF to spend $1 million of the new money to study "the spread of COVID-19 related disinformation." NSF could also use $2.5 million of the money to manage the resulting heavier workload.

Census Bureau

The Census Bureau would receive an additional $400 million for COVID-19–related costs of conducting the 2020 decennnial census now underway. The agency would also get $10 million to cover the loss of revenue from other federal agencies that contract with the bureau to carry out surveys that have been suspended because of the pandemic.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

USGS would receive $40 million for surveys that monitor the environmental impact of the pandemic.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

EPA would get $50 million for environmental justice grants that examine the "links between pollution exposure and the transmission and health outcomes of coronavirus."

Higher Education

Private colleges and universities would be eligible for some portion of $8.4 billion from the U.S. Department of Education "to defray expenses [including lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred, technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, faculty and staff trainings, and payroll] they have incurred in responding to the pandemic." Most of the money would be distributed based on the percentage of low-income students they serve.

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