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WASHINGTON UPDATE

February 2021

 

COVID Supplemental Funding 

The House approved the American Rescue Plan of 2021 (HR 1319) under the budget reconciliation process. The bill is expected to bypass Senate committees and go straight to the Senate floor for consideration where it will be subject to amendment. The current version of the bill includes a third round of HEERF relief funding for universities, of which UF should receive about $86.8 million. Half of the new funds or $40.4 million will provide additional direct financial assistance to our neediest students, and half will be used on additional institutional costs. Unlike previous relief measures, the bill provides funding to offset the pandemic’s disruption to our research enterprise and our pipeline of talented students.  It also funds new research to address learning loss caused by the pandemic.   

Previous COVID Relief Funding – Earlier rounds of federal funding to address the impact of the pandemic on our hospitals, universities, students, and communities provided essential funding to UF.    

UF Health - To date, UF Health has received just over $100 million in funding for our health enterprises to cover expenses preparing for and responding to COVID 19 and forgone revenue due to cancellations of elective procedures and appointments.  Due to formula requirements, UF Shands and other safety-net hospitals have not received their fair share of the COVID Provider Relief Fund.  We continue to work with HHS and our Congressional Delegation to advocate that all Safety-Net hospitals are eligible for the remaining $24 billion in the hospital Provider Relief Fund. 

Student and Institutional Aid -  The initial Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF I) provided UF with $30.1 million, half of which went to direct financial assistance to our neediest students, and half helped begin to defray the institutional costs of refunds, PPE, and other pandemic-related costs.  UF recently received the second round of HEERF funding worth $45 million, which provides more flexible use of the funds to cover pandemic-related expenses including lost revenue, technology costs of distance education, faculty and staff training, payroll, and student support activities.  UF will follow a similar formula for distributing the $15.5 million portion of those for direct student assistance grants but allowable uses expand to include any component of their cost of attendance including health care and childcare.   

Biden Administration and Congressional Priorities  

With the White House and both houses of Congress under Democratic control, there is great alignment in priorities between the White House and Congress.  However, the razor-thin margins in both houses of Congress necessitate negotiation and some power-sharing that may have implications for Congress’s ability to enact legislation.  There are significant areas of Administration and congressional priorities that intersect with UF’s federal priorities.  

  • College Affordability- the Biden administration and congressional leaders identify reducing student-loan debt and improving college affordability for low-income students as top priorities.  Among proposals under consideration, is making public colleges and universities tuition-free for all families who earn $125,000 or less, and student loan forgiveness.  While the potential cost of these programs could be prohibitive, the higher education community is strongly promoting a doubling of the maximum Pell Grant as the simplest, most cost-effective means to increase college access and affordability.  For UF students, a $12,990 Pell Grant would cover the total cost of tuition and fees, and together with Bright Futures and Manchin Scholarships, could cover the total cost of attendance for our brightest students.   
  • Immigration Reform - The pandemic, coupled with several federal policy changes adopted by the prior administration, impacted the US’s reputation as the premier destination for international students and scholars.  The Biden Administration moved quickly to restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and overturn previous travel bans and duration of status proposals. Congress is considering legislation to create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, provide dual intent for international students, eliminate per-country visa caps, clear visa backlogs, and exempt STEM doctoral graduates from green card limits.  We expect some portion of these proposals to eventually be enacted, and to help stem the decline in international students in the US.
  • Science Investment - Biden Administration is emphasizing strong support for science and science-backed policy that we are hopeful will translate to strong funding increases for the science agencies.  The Administration is calling for deep new investments in research on climate change, energy efficiency, and cancer, which are all areas UF excels.  In Congress, there is growing bipartisan acknowledgment that investments in research have fallen far short of the need to bolster American competitiveness and support critical areas of science to help strengthen national security.  The higher education community is responding to this opportunity with calls for significant increases in university research funding across the science agencies, including a $1.5 billion increase for NSF, a $3.1 billion increase in NIH, and double-digit percentage increases for most other science agencies.  
  • Foreign Influence in Academia – concern over foreign governments exploiting our open research environments at American universities continues to be a strongly bipartisan issue in Congress.  Early moves indicate the Biden Administration will continue many of the current policies to prevent loss of intellectual property and conflicts of interest and commitment, and a current whole-of-government review underway may elicit additional measures.   We are working closely with the security and science agencies to prevent undue foreign influence on campus and President Fuchs is chairing a presidential working group within AAU to share best practices and policies that will preserve and protect fundamental research and the open exchange of scientific knowledge.  Given UF’s early adaptation of strict protocols and reporting requirements, we are seen by the federal security and science agencies as a model for responsible management of foreign influence, and we are often asked to help mentor other universities and colleges. 
  • Racial Equity and Inclusion- In light of last summer’s protests and the continued national discussion around racial equity, we anticipate we will see a lot of movement on racial equity from both Congress and the White House. The Biden Administration has signaled strong support for maximizing government resources for underserved communities.  The higher education community anticipates opportunities to increase funding to federal student aid programs, including TRIO programs, create new federal programs aimed at addressing racial inequities in STEM research, and broadening minority participation at the undergraduate and graduate levels.   
  • New Budget Tools- The Administration and Congress are using the process of budget reconciliation to quickly move COVID-related packages because it only requires 51 votes to pass the Senate.  We anticipate Congress may attempt another FY22 reconciliation package later this Spring to early Summer that will allow Congress to seek funding outside of the annual appropriations process and offer an opportunity to push through ambitious increases to programs (such as Pell Grants, infrastructure, and research funding) that would not necessarily be subject to the 60 vote threshold.  The potential for an infrastructure package is the most likely, and could provide significant new funding for research equipment, replacing aging facilities, and covering deferred maintenance.   
  • Name, Image, and Likeness– Spurred by action at the state level, Congress is working to create a uniform federal standard for allowing student-athletes to profit from the sale of their name, image, and likeness.  In addition to compensation, Congress is considering drafting legislation that folds into the NIL compensation package additional benefits and ‘rights’ for student-athletes.  These include mandatory health care, lifetime educational benefits, and revenue sharing, among others.  

 

UF Washington Update is a newsletter from the UF Office of Federal Relations. Please contact us if you have any questions or need additional information at 202-220-1381 or UF-FederalRelations@ufl.edu