Federal Funding for COVID-19 Research — New and Recovery

July 30, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt every aspect of our lives, in terms of research, federal policymakers are trying to determine the best ways to mitigate the consequences on the scientific ecosystem and the pressing questions where additional research is needed. After months of discussion, the White House and Senate Republicans released their version of the next COVID-19 supplemental funding package as the Health Education and Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act. The House passed the HEROES Act back in May.

The bill included $15.5 billion in emergency supplemental funding for the NIH research, available through September 30, 2024, as:

  • $172.7 million for Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development;
  • $200 million for National Institute of Mental Health;
  • $64.33 million for National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities;
  • $1.22 billion for National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences;
  • $12.9 billion for the Office of the Director, divided as:
    • $10.1 billion “for offsetting the costs related to reductions in lab productivity resulting from the coronavirus pandemic”;  
    • $1.24 billion “to accelerate the research and development of therapeutic interventions and vaccines in partnership”;
    • $240 million “for supplements to existing research training awards for extensions and other costs”; and
    • $1.33 billion “to support additional scientific research or the programs and platforms that support research”

The bill did not include any funding for research at the National Science Foundation, despite the clear role that NSF has in addressing COVID-19 and significant advocacy from the scientific community. According to many, this bill is a non-starter based on the non-research provisions, and is being criticized for falling short of providing enough money for state and local governments, protecting renters from eviction, and investing enough in lower-income communities hit hard by the pandemic. The Senate will also need to come to agreement about if and how to extend the federal unemployment insurance supplement.

In addition to new and emerging research questions and opportunities, COVID-19 presents significant challenges to researchers across the scientific spectrum. On July 23rd, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act. Companion legislation had been introduced in the House earlier this summer. The RISE Act would authorize $26 billion in relief for research workforce and institutions. These funds would be essential to support the U.S. research community during the pandemic. The funds would provide emergency relief for federal science agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health ($10 billion), National Science Foundation ($3 billion), Institute of Education Sciences ($200 million) and others, to make awards to research universities, independent institutions, and national laboratories to continue working on federally-funded research projects. The introduction of the RISE Act in the Senate follows a May letter from Senators Markey and Tillis to Senate leadership.  

At many institutions, non-COVID research has slowed or stopped due to closures of campuses and laboratories. In some cases, labs have been repurposed to address COVID challenges shifting to producing essential PPE while putting aside other important research. The graduate students, postdocs, principal investigators, and technical support staff who comprise the research workforce face significant disruption of their research activities and often financial hardships. FABBS has supported the legislation. (A copy of the legislation can be found here.)