NEWS

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February 17, 2009

Final stimulus package contains less aid to research and higher ed, but billions remain

Students and researchers at the University stand to gain from the economic stimulus package passed by both houses of Congress last Thursday.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contains billions of dollars in funding for the National Institute of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy (DOE), all major sources of grant money for the University. It also offers assistance to underprivileged students and their families in the form of higher annual tax credits and an increase in the value of Pell Grant awards.

The package is a mammoth piece of legislation totaling $789 billion in committed funds, aimed at shoring up a weakened and shrinking economy. While some have criticized the inclusion of funding for long-term projects such as education and healthcare, many lawmakers see research as a source of employment and new industry, both of which are necessary for a country’s growth.

Scott Sudduth, associate vice president for federal relations, said the bill offered the “potential for dramatic researching opportunities.” He singled out Fermilab as being “among the big winners.”

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, run in part by the University, stands to receive funding for “two to three big science infrastructure projects that had been shelved because of poor budgets in the last two federal cycles,” Sudduth said.

“Researchers in the life and physical sciences will see an infusion of research experiments,” Sudduth said. “The NIH has an enormous backlog of faculty proposals that received high marks in peer reviews but didn’t get funding.”While representatives do have their eyes on the bright spots, the University’s economic status remains more or less the same.

After reading the bill, Robert Rosenberg, a U of C spokesman, saw a slew of areas that the University may indirectly benefit from, including health technology, K-12 education, and infrastructure improvements in Hyde Park and Chicago. Nevertheless, he said, “I don’t think it will affect scholarship availability or loan availability.”Besides a $500 increase per Pell Grant, which tend to be awarded to around 10 percent of students in the College, there was little other pertinent financial aid support written into the bill.

“While the financial aid picture was good, it could have been better,” Sudduth said.

An increase in the amount a student could borrow in both subsidized and unsubsidized funds was present in a draft of the bill but was cut for the final version, which Obama will sign on Tuesday.

The package allocated $8.5 billion to the NIH for research and $1.5 billion for laboratory renovation, and the NSF was given $3 billion for research. In 2007, those institutions provided 60 percent of the University’s grant money. The DOE, which helps fund Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab, received $1.6 billion.