Congress Passes Fourth COVID-19 Relief Package

April 30, 2020

Over the past seven weeks, Congress has passed four supplemental bills, approaching a total of $3 trillion, to help address the health and economic consequences of COVID-19. The most recent package, HR 266, was signed into law on Friday, April 24th. FABBS has reported on the first three packages. The final vote for the $483 billion relief measure followed two weeks of contentious negotiations. Initially, the White House requested $251 billion to replenish a small-business loan fund. The final measure was nearly double this number, providing additional money for hospitals and testing.

The latest package provides the Paycheck Protection Program with an additional $310 billion for forgivable loans intended to keep workers on payroll while businesses are closed due to the pandemic. The original pot of money was quickly depleted due to higher-than-expected demand. The bill also provides $100 billion to HHS for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, including $25 billion for expenses to research, develop, validate, manufacture, purchase, administer, and expand capacity for COVID-19 tests to effectively monitor and suppress COVID-19.

NIH has received roughly $1.8 billion directed to specific institutes and $30 million to the Office of the Director. For more about COVID-19 funding at NIH see Open Mike blog. Despite playing very significant roles addressing the pandemic, neither the National Institutes of Mental Health nor the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development have received specific allocations in past supplemental bills. The Friends of NICHD, in which FABBS serves on the executive committee, sent a letter to Congressional leadership, urging Congress to provide additional funding to NICHD to support COVID-19 related research.

There is already broad speculation about a possible fifth package. Many scientific societies and advocacy organizations are eager to see additional support for the research enterprise. As a result of the pandemic, the vast majority, if not all, of labs and universities across the country have suspended normal operations. The research enterprise is already incurring costs associated with these disruptions, not to mention retooling to teaching online.

To address these tolls, Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Fred Upton (R-MI) led a “Dear Colleague”, Congressional sign-on letter, urging House leaders to support scientific and medical researchers in the next COVID-19 relief package. The bipartisan letter, with 182 signatures, requests $26 billion in the next COVID-19 relief package for federal research agencies to support:

  • Supplements for research grants and contracts (e.g., cost extensions);
  • Emergency relief to sustain research support personnel and base operating costs for core research facilities; and
  • Additional graduate student and postdoc fellowships, traineeships, and research assistantships.

A similar effort is being led by Sen. Markey (D-MA).

The Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, of which FABBS is a member, sent a letter to Congressional leadership requesting an additional $31 billion for NIH.

Meanwhile, with Members of the House and Senate back in their home districts, discussions about the FY 2021 budget have been largely put on hold. Originally planning to return to Capitol Hill on May 4, House leadership has been further delayed a return to Washington. Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) remains hopeful that the Senate Appropriations subcommittees will consider bills before the July 4 recess, even though subcommittees are still waiting to receive their allocations in order to continue the budget process.