House Passes HEROES Act, Scientific Community Continues to Advocate for Relief

May 21, 2020

The House of Representatives passed the most recent COVID-19 emergency response legislation, Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or The Heroes Act, on Friday, May 15. The proposal would increase aid for state, local and tribal governments on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis; extend unemployment insurance benefits; provide more direct payments to Americans; and provide a variety of investments in the public health infrastructure. Research-related items in the bill include:

National Institutes of Health: $4.75 billion to expand COVID-19-related research on the NIH campus and at academic institutions across the country as well as to support the shutdown and startup costs of biomedical research laboratories nation-wide. This includes:

  • $500 million for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
  • $200 million for the National Institute of Mental Health
  • $4.2 billion for the Office of the Director, with $3 billion to be provided for offsetting the costs related to reductions in lab productivity resulting from the pandemic or public health measures.

National Science Foundation: $125 million to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the novel coronavirus, $1 million of which ‘to address the spread of disinformation.’ The manager’s amendment to HEROES directed NSF to ‘enter into an arrangement with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’ to conduct the study.

This version of the bill faces challenges in the Senate, where Majority Leader McConnell and other members remain unconvinced that another response bill is needed at this time. The legislation did not have bipartisan engagement in drafting and negotiation. A full summary of the bill’s provisions can be found here. 

House and Senate letters to Congressional leadership urged appropriators to include $26 billion in the next COVID-19 relief package for federal research agencies. Funds would support scientific and medical researchers by addressing costs associated with winding down and eventually resuming research activities. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) led the House letter sent on April 29 with over 175 signatories. Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) led the Senate letter sent on May 4 with 33 signatories.

As a co-chair of the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), FABBS signed onto a multi-coalition letter, led by The Task Force on American Innovation, urging Congress to support science and engineering research in future coronavirus relief legislation. The letter outlines three ways Congress needs to address the impacts of COVID-19 on the U.S. scientific enterprise: significantly increasing scientific research funding across federal science agencies, maintaining and growing America’s STEM workforce, and investing in essential research infrastructure. The letter was covered in Inside Higher Ed and Politico Morning Tech. 

FABBS has been communicating with federal agencies and Congressional offices to most accurately estimate the toll of COVID-19 on the scientific infrastructure, including scientific societies and researchers. In addition to funding for new research specifically on the pandemic, costs of ongoing research must consider the consequences associated with reduced productivity due to campus closures, interruption to data collection and time spent transitioning to online teaching.