On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or “CARES Act,” the largest economic stimulus package in U.S. history to address economic impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. President Trump signed the measure on the same day. The $2 trillion stimulus package includes economic relief measures to help individuals, small businesses, and “severely distressed” industry sectors deal with the impacts of the outbreak. Funds are also provided to support coronavirus-related research.
The legislation provides $4.3 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support public health preparedness and response and $1.25 billion in funding for federal research agencies to support research to understand the disease.
The measure allocates $76 million for the National Science Foundation (NSF), including $75 million for Research and Related Activities “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, including to fund research grants and other necessary expenses,” and $1 million to address impacts on the grant administration process. The research allocation will support NSF’s ongoing Rapid Response Research (RAPID) funding mechanism in response to coronavirus. RAPID grants fast-track time-sensitive research by allowing NSF “to receive and review proposals having a severe urgency with regard to availability of or access to data, facilities or specialized equipment as well as quick-response research on natural or anthropogenic disasters and similar unanticipated events.” NSF has invited such proposals in a recently shared Dear Colleague Letter.
Other provisions in the stimulus package include:
- $945.5 million for the National Institutes of Health for “vaccine, therapeutic, and diagnostic research to increase our understanding of COVID-19, including underlying risks to cardiovascular and pulmonary conditions.”
- $20 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to support agency operations and National Weather Service life and property related services.
- $60 million for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for operational adjustments associated with rescheduling missions.
- $99.5 million for the Department of Energy Office of Science for the operation of the national laboratory scientific user facilities, including support for equipment and personnel associated with research and development efforts related to coronavirus.
- $6 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to support agency operations during the emergency, including “research and measurement science activities to improve coronavirus testing capabilities and support development of coronavirus diagnostics.”
- $3 million for the United States Forest Service for its research account “to re-establish scientific experiments impacted by travel restrictions, such as the Forest Inventory and Analysis program.”
Additionally, the package provides financial aid for universities that have shut down as a result of the pandemic, with some of the funding directed to support disrupted research. The Department of Education would receive $30.9 billion in “flexible funding” that will go directly to states, local school districts, and institutions of higher education “to help schools, students, teachers, and families with immediate needs related to coronavirus.” This includes $14.25 billion for higher education, at least half of which would be directed to support students “facing urgent needs related to coronavirus” and the rest would be used to “support institutions as they cope with the immediate effects of coronavirus and school closures.”
On March 19, four organizations representing major research institutions and medical schools across the country requested the White House and Congress to increase research spending at federal science agencies by 15 percent or $13 billion to deal with research disruptions. “We anticipate significant impacts on research personnel and students and their work but, given the great uncertainties about the duration of the crisis, we cannot comprehensively quantify all the costs at this time,” noted the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the American Council on Education.
This is the third bill passed by Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first emergency supplemental appropriations package, enacted on March 6, allocated $8.3 billion to respond to the virus, including funds for vaccine development, support for state and local governments, and assistance for affected small businesses. The second bill, enacted on March 18, “guarantees free coronavirus testing, secures paid emergency leave, enhances Unemployment Insurance, strengthens food security initiatives, and increases federal Medicaid funding to states.”