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Bullet policy · Mar 01, 2021

House Passes Relief Package with Funds for NSF, NIST

On February 27, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, largely along party lines, with two Democrats voting against the measure.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (H.R. 1319) includes another round of direct payments, extensions for unemployment benefits, state and local government aid, funds for testing and vaccinations, and $40 billion for higher education institutions, among other provisions.

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which has jurisdiction over much of the non-defense federal research portfolio, was assigned up to $750 million to make allocations in the relief package. The panel has provided $600 million for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and $150 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to recover from the impact of the pandemic. The NSF money is intended to support research on pandemic-related topics and to extend support for existing grants and fellowships. The allocation for NIST is expected to fund pandemic-related research through its existing Manufacturing USA institutes.

House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) have both acknowledged that significantly more funding is needed to address COVID-related disruptions to research. “We’ve relied on American scientists to combat COVID, but we’re not giving them the funding they need to resume the work that’s been stopped by the pandemic,” said Lucas. “Restarting our research work requires investment, and it’s long overdue. The longer we go without passing substantial relief, the worse the situation becomes.”

Johnson and Lucas have endorsed the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act, which has been backed by the scientific community, including AIBS. The bill proposes allocating roughly $25 billion across federal science agencies. They also reintroduced a bill (H.R. 144) to authorize $250 million a year over fiscal years 2021 and 2022 for NSF to establish a fellowship program to support such early career scientists impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funds for NSF and NIST were not mentioned in the initial text of the package that was considered by the House Budget Committee, but were added to the legislation as part of a manager’s amendment shortly before the full chamber voted on it. According to Science Insider, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, is likely to endorse a similar allocation for the two agencies. Also included in the manager’s amendment was $95 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for wildlife inspections, care of captive endangered species, and research related to wildlife disease outbreaks.