The U.S. House of Representatives passed a new coronavirus relief package, The Heroes Act, on May 15, 2020. If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, this will be the fifth measure adopted by Congress to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The $3 trillion stimulus bill includes $1 trillion in assistance for state, local, territorial, and tribal governments; $75 billion for coronavirus testing, contact tracing, and isolation measures; emergency supplemental appropriations to federal agencies; another round of direct payments; and $200 billion for a “Heroes’ fund” to provide hazard pay for essential workers.
The bill includes funds to support coronavirus-related research. The National Institutes of Health would receive $4.721 billion to “expand COVID-19-related research on the NIH campus and at academic institutions across the country and to support the shutdown and startup costs of biomedical research laboratories nationwide.” $4 billion would be directed to the Office of the Director, of which $3 billion would be available for “offsetting the costs related to reductions in lab productivity resulting from the coronavirus pandemic or public health measures related to the coronavirus pandemic” and the remaining $1 billion would “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.”
The National Science Foundation would receive $125 million for grants to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” The bill allocates $1 million for a study on “the spread of COVID-19 related disinformation.” NSF could also transfer up to $2.5 million of its allocation to its “Agency Operations and Award Management” account for management, administration, and oversight of the funds provided.
Other research related highlights from the relief package include:
- $40 million for the U.S. Geological Survey for biosurveillance and research related to wildlife-borne disease.
- $50 million for the Environmental Protection Agency for environmental justice grants, including those investigating “links between pollution exposure and the transmission and health outcomes of coronavirus in environmental justice communities.
- $8.4 billion for higher education institutions “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) incurred by institutions of higher education.”
The bill would provide $71 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “to support activities related to wildlife-borne disease prevention, with $50 million for grants through the State and Tribal Wildlife grant program.”
The Institute of Museum and Library Services would receive $5 million to support libraries and museums with expenses associated with the pandemic, including operational support and providing technology and resources for their communities.
Republican lawmakers in the Senate have said they do not consider the House’s plan a serious legislative endeavor, according to E&E News. Some Democratic lawmakers have indicated that the bill is only a starting point for negotiations with the Senate and White House on government measures that need to be taken to respond to the pandemic. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) criticized the bill as a “totally unserious effort” and a “Democratic wish list.” House Republicans characterized some of the research allocations as “wasteful spending.”