A Possible Path Forward for FY 2021 and COVID-19 Relief

June 4th, 2020

As states start to reopen and the country approaches the presidential election, Congress is considering how to move forward with any additional COVID-19 stimulus packages and the 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2021.

Last month, the House passed, along party lines, the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions.” The HEROES Act would provide more than $3 trillion to federal agencies, state and local governments, small businesses, and individuals. Eyes are on the Senate as members try to reach a bipartisan agreement for future provisions.

The science and higher education community are working to estimate the short- and long-term consequences of COVID-19 on the scientific infrastructure.

While eager to get back to campus, institutions will need to make potentially costly accommodations to keep students and faculty healthy. Challenges will include how to physically distance people and adequately sanitize facilities, as well as developing policies and practice around providing PPE, implementing testing, and contact tracing.

From a human capital perspective, COVID-19 is creating both short and long-term consequences. With campuses and labs shut down indefinitely, undergraduate researchers have been unable to complete training in research methods or benefit from mentoring or advisor oversight. Disrupted research will take extra time to complete, even for researchers not dependent on labs. Working from home is often less productive due to managing child care and inferior technology arrangements. Furthermore, recent graduates and postdocs are facing a terrible job market and postdocs will require additional funding to continue research until students are back on campus and universities start hiring new faculty.

Federal agencies are working to accommodate these challenges, offering increased flexibility for research and researchers. These extensions, supplements, and new COVID-19 funding opportunities entail additional administrative expense. On behalf of our researchers, FABBS continues to communicate these costs and consideration to Congressional offices and federal agencies.

The outlook for FY 2021 was never particularly rosy. At the outset, agreed upon budget caps included an inadequate $5 billion increase – less than 1 percent – to the discretionary spending cap over the FY 2020 level. Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL), after meeting with the White House, indicated a willingness to exempt $11 billion for the VA MISSION Act from the budget caps, overcoming a significant obstacle to a forward path for the appropriations process. Chairman Shelby has accordingly expressed his desire to see the Senate begin marking up bills the third week in June.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has announced that the House of Representatives will have one voting day in June, twelve in July, and none in August – as is typical, particularly in an election year. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to start marking up spending bills in subcommittee and full committee “at the end of June and beginning of July” and to vote on the twelve annual spending measures by the end of July.