A $2 trillion stimulus package to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the largest stimulus bill in US history, has passed through the US Congress. President Donald J. Trump is expected to sign it.
The greatest proportion of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is economic support for individuals and businesses. But science agencies throughout the federal government also received funding for research related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This new funding is on top of money in a $8.3 billion package passed earlier this month to respond to the virus and support research.
“This is a much-needed infusion of funding that will advance COVID-19 research already underway at public universities and elsewhere,” Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, says in a statement.
However, universities—which have largely moved to online classes and closed labs not doing COVID-19 work—had hoped for more support. “The bill does not provide funding to help pay for graduate students, postdocs and others who can’t get into the lab as well as to, among other things, pay for winding down and eventually ramping up research activity,” McPherson says. Congress is already discussing another stimulus bill that could come in the next few weeks.
Of the research funding in the CARES Act, the National Institutes of Health is the largest recipient, at $945 million. The vast majority of that, $706 million, goes to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The rest is spread among several other agencies and the NIH director.
The Food and Drug Administration is allocated $80 million to, among other things, develop medical countermeasures or vaccines, implement advanced manufacturing for medical products, and monitor medical product supply chains.
Congress also sent $99.5 million to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science for its COVID-19 response, including enabling access to user facilities throughout its national laboratory complex. The National Science Foundation is set to receive $75 million for COVID-19 research.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will get $6 million for coronavirus research, including “measurement science to support viral testing and biomanufacturing.” Another $50 million is provided to NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership to help small and midsize manufacturers respond to the virus, while the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation will get $10 million to support development and manufacturing of medical countermeasures and biomedical supplies and equipment.
Congress gave the Environmental Protection Agency $1.5 million to conduct research on methods to curb risks of coronavirus transmission via contaminated surfaces or materials. The legislation provides another $1.5 million to EPA to expedite the registration of coronavirus disinfectants under the federal pesticides law.
In addition, Congress allocated $12.5 million for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a federal agency that monitors and responds to environmental health threats. Of that, $7.5 million is directed toward mapping infectious disease hot spots, including on cruise ships. And $5 million will provide grants for development and outreach surrounding safe disinfection practices to support disinfection of homes, schools, and daycare facilities.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will also receive $1.5 million to report on the security of the medical product supply chain.
Outside of research funding, the measure extends the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) law to July 23. Right now, the program is set to expire in April. CFATS requires industrial facilities that make, use, or store specified quantities of particularly hazardous chemicals to assess their risks and provide plans for site security to the Department of Homeland Security. After the department reviews and approves the plans, facilities must adopt protective measures.
Lawmakers are trying to craft legislation that would authorize CFATS for multiple years. But US Senate Republicans want to make industry-backed changes to the law while Democrats in the House of Representatives oppose that plan.
This story was updated on April 3, 2020, to correct the amount of research funding allocated to the National Institutes of Health in the stimulus package. NIH will receive $945.4 million, not $954.0 million. A footnote saying that NIH received funding from a previous COVID-19 response bill was deleted because other agencies also received funding in that bill. Also, the name of the novel coronavirus was corrected. It is SARS-CoV-2, not SARS-COV-19.