COVID Relief Update
The House Budget Committee marked up and advanced the new COVID-19 relief measure, the American Rescue Plan Act. The $1.9 trillion package now moves to the Rules Committee for consideration where substantive changes are likely to occur. The legislation’s current $1.95 trillion price tag exceeds the $1.89 trillion approved under the budget resolution agreement. The House is expected to consider the bill on the House floor later this week with hopes of sending it to the Senate next week. If the Senate amends the measure, the House could possibly vote on final approval the week of March 8. Democrats aim to pass the measure in advance of the March 14th expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits to avoid an expiration.
The House Science Committee’s allocation is not yet included in the bill. When the House Rules Committee meets this week, it will adopt a manager’s amendment that adds $600 million for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and $150 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for research relief.
The $750 million allocated to NSF and NIST is far below the $26 billion requested by APLU and the scientific community to provide critical support to researchers and to help address research disruptions across all federal science agencies. On Thursday at 10am EST, the House Science Committee will hold a hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on the research enterprise entitled Building Back the U.S. Research Enterprise: COVID Impacts and Recovery. Dr. Christopher Keane, Vice President for Research, Washington State University and Chair of APLU’s Council on Research, will testify. APLU recommended Dr. Keane as a witness to the House Science Committee.
U.S. Citizenship Act Introduced
Last week, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Linda Sánchez (D-CA) introduced the bicameral U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. The comprehensive immigration reform bill is based on President Biden’s proposal released shortly after his inauguration last month.
The bill creates a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, provides dual intent for international students, recaptures unused visas, eliminates per-country visa caps, includes provisions to help clear employment-based visa backlogs, and exempts STEM doctoral graduates from green card limits. While the bill provides a process for the Department of Homeland Security to expand the definition of STEM if it chooses, biological, agricultural and natural resource sciences are not explicitly included. There is also a provision requiring states and public institutions to provide in-state tuition to asylees, refugees, and certain special immigrants.
APLU released a statement applauding introduction of the bill while noting the importance of exempting all advanced STEM graduates, not just doctoral graduates, from green card limits and broadening the definition of STEM to include biological, agricultural, and natural resource sciences as the legislative process moves forward. Congress is unlikely to pass a comprehensive immigration bill this year, but President Biden signaled last month his openness to a piecemeal approach on immigration reform.
Biden Nominates James Kvaal to Serve as Undersecretary of Education
Last week, President Biden announced the nomination of James Kvaal to serve as Undersecretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education. If confirmed, Kvaal will oversee policies and programs related to postsecondary education, federal student aid, and vocational and adult education. APLU released a statement in support of his nomination.
Higher Ed Community Requests Meeting with ED to Discuss Sec. 117
APLU and partner higher education associations and organizations sent a letter to Department of Education (ED) Acting Secretary Philip Rosenfelt requesting a meeting to discuss requirements of foreign gift and contract reporting under Section 117 of the Higher Education Act, and ways to improve reporting compliance. The letter also details the previous administration’s unwillingness to engage with institutions of higher education on this issue while reiterating our commitment to ensuring colleges and universities comply with reporting requirements.
Biden Administration Announces Climate Innovation Working Group
On February 11, the Biden administration announced the creation of a new Climate Innovation Working Group. As part of the National Climate Task Force, the Working Group aims to increase research and development investments by coordinating federal government efforts to promote climate change through game-changing technologies. The press release also mentioned the Biden administration's intention to work with land-grant universities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and other minority-serving institutions in its efforts to coordinate climate innovation across the federal government. No formal details on these plans are yet available.
Additionally, the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced $100 million in funding to “support early-stage research into potentially disruptive energy technologies, specifically encouraging inter-disciplinary approaches and collaboration across sectors” as a first example of the administration’s commitment to widespread innovation.