On July 27, 2020, Republican lawmakers in the Senate unveiled a $1 trillion stimulus package to address the impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Health, Economic Assistance, Liability, and Schools Act or HEALS Act includes $105 billion in education funding; a “liability shield” to protect businesses, universities, schools, and hospitals from coronavirus-related lawsuits; another round of direct stimulus payments to American households; additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and emergency business loans; and a two-thirds reduction in emergency federal supplemental unemployment payments. The bill does not include any aid for state and local governments, but it allows for more flexibility in how states allocate funds.
Of the $105 billion proposed for education funding, $70 billion would be targeted to K-12 schools. Two-thirds of that funding is intended to help schools reopen for in-person teaching. Schools would need to meet certain “minimum opening requirements” established by their states to receive those funds. President Trump previously threatened to withdraw federal funding from schools that don’t reopen. Additionally, $29 billion would be directed to higher education institutions and $5 billion to governors to allocate to either higher education or K-12 schools. The Heroes Act - the $3 trillion relief package passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May - included $8.4 billion for higher education institutions. According to the New York Times, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has expressed support for providing more than $100 billion in relief funding for education.
The HEALS Act includes an additional $16 billion in funding for testing, contact tracing, and surveillance in states; $15.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health to reopen laboratories and conduct COVID-19 research; and $26 billion for COVID-19 vaccine, therapeutic, and diagnostic development, manufacturing, and distribution. The Senate package does not include funds for other federal science agencies. The House relief package proposed $125 million for the National Science Foundation for grants to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus” and $40 million for the U.S. Geological Survey for biosurveillance and research related to wildlife-borne disease, among other provisions.
The Senate bill includes the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE). The bill intends to “help stop foreign governments, particularly China, from stealing American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property developed at U.S. colleges and universities.” The bill was approved by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on July 22, 2020, despite concerns expressed by higher education and research groups that the legislation could restrict collaborative science.
It remains to be seen how Democratic and Republican lawmakers will reconcile the differences between the two relief packages. Speaker Pelosi plans to push for more funding, particularly for schools, while Senator Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) has warned against raising the price tag for the next relief bill above $1 trillion. Several Republican lawmakers have expressed concerns about spending more money in addition to the trillions already enacted. “[A]s it stands now, I think it’s likely that you’ll see a number of Republicans in opposition to this bill and expressing serious concerns,” said Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).