While the $1.1 trillion spending package signed into law by President Barack Obama Friday evening is a step in the right direction for Penn research, it will not solve all the problems caused by sequestration.
Thanks to the automatic spending cuts enacted in March 2013, the University projected losses of $34-42 million in federal grants, with an additional $40 million cut from the Perelman School of Medicine. In fiscal year 2012, before the sequester hit, 82 percent of Penn’s $874 million in research grants came from federal support.
The spending package restores $1 billion to the National Institutes of Health, a major Penn grant-giver, for a total funding level of $29.9 billion — leaving the agency at the same spending levels as in 2004. The National Science Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will see a $287 million and $369 million bump up in funding, respectively.
“The biggest disappointment is that the NIH did not get as much money restored as we had hoped,” said Bill Andresen, Penn’s vice president for federal affairs at the Office of Government and Community Affairs. “Money is going to be very tight next year.”
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the NIH, provided 57 percent of Penn’s research grants in fiscal year 2012. HHS is one of the most contentious agencies for Congress to fund, as it funds provisions of the Affordable Care Act and other social programs.
“It’s not going to be an easy time next year, but we’ll do everything we can to make sure that the programs that are important to Penn and students and researchers get as much money as possible,” Andresen said. Federal research funding has long been a top lobbying priority for the University’s Washington office, particularly with the implementation of the sequester.
Pell grants also received a small increase: The maximum award will be $5,730, an increase of about $85.
In a move that Andresen called “disappointing,” Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey was one of 26 Republican senators to vote against the bill, which passed the Senate 72-26 on Thursday.
“I can’t support a fiscally irresponsible funding measure that puts us even further in debt,” read a statement from Toomey’s office. “Instead of more overspending, Congress should stay within the budget limits, which both sides supported and President Obama signed into law just two years ago.”