Biden Details Plans for Science and Humanities

President seeks large increases for NIH and NSF and a more modest increase for the NEH.

June 1, 2021
 
President Biden

President Biden detailed his ambitious plans for science and technology, and his more modest plans for the humanities, in his detailed budget proposal released Friday.

Most of his education plans were released in April, when he proposed billions more in spending on Pell Grants and support for minority-serving colleges.

Science Agencies

In the plan released last week, Biden proposed $52 billion for the National Institutes of Health for the 2022 fiscal year, which is a 21 percent increase over what Congress allocated for 2021.

The agency would use the additional funding on its spending on research related to COVID-19.

"As researchers make stunning progress on treatments and vaccines to combat COVID-19, the long-term health impacts remain unclear," said the NIH budget document. "NIH is supporting studies in diverse populations, including pregnant women, infants, and children … The FY 2022 budget request includes an additional $15 million for research on multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and the spectrum of SARS-CoV-2 pediatric risks. For many Americans, this pandemic has been overwhelming, affecting their mental health. Prior research on disasters and epidemics has shown that in the immediate wake of a traumatic experience, large numbers of affected people report distress, including new or worsening symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. To aid in mental health recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, $25 million is requested to increase research on the impact of the pandemic on mental health and the mental health delivery system."

The budget would also add to the funds used to study "health disparities" among racial groups.

The document justified this spending by again noting COVID-19.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the dramatic health disparities that exist across the American population. For example, 22 percent of U.S. counties that are disproportionately African American accounted for 52 percent of our Nation’s COVID-19 cases and 58 percent of COVID-19 deaths."

Biden requested $10.2 billion for the National Science Foundation, which is a $1.7 billion -- or 20 percent -- increase from the 2021 funding level.

NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan praised the request, most of which will provide $9.43 billion, an increase of $1.55 billion above the 2021 enacted level, to support research across science, engineering and technology.

The NSF budget also focused on equity. It provides "$100 million, an increase of about 50 percent, in funding for programs to increase participation in science and engineering programs by individuals from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in these fields. Funding will support curriculum design, research on successful recruitment and retention methods, development of outreach or mentorship programs, fellowships, and building science and engineering research and education capacity at historically black colleges and universities, and other minority-serving institutions."

Humanities Endowment Support

Biden proposed $177.55 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities for fiscal year 2022. The request is a 6 percent increase over NEH’s FY 2021 appropriation.

The 6 percent increase may not seem large, but it is a contrast to the four years in a row of President Trump proposing to eliminate the humanities endowment.

Most of the money -- $122.9 million -- would be for NEH’s grant programs in support of projects in the humanities.

The money is also crucial to humanities professors, whose work is on a much smaller scale than their colleagues in the sciences.

No Money for Canceling Student Debt

Notably absent from the budget is any cancellation of student loan debt, which Biden said in November, following the election, “should be done immediately.” Despite the president stating support for canceling $10,000 in student loan debt per person, advocates weren’t surprised to see it excluded from the budget.

“When you talk about executive action on student debt cancellation, it doesn't require any appropriated funds, so it doesn't really require the budgetary process in any way,” said Cody Hounanian, program director at Student Debt Crisis.

The president has directed the Department of Education and the Department of Justice to examine the legal authority he has to cancel debt through executive action. Even if it isn’t a part of the budgetary process, excluding it from the budget was a missed messaging opportunity for the administration, said Hounanian.

“We want our lawmakers to use every opportunity they can to discuss canceling student loan debt, and this was an opportunity, in my opinion, to send a clear message that the president is committed to the promises he made on the campaign trail,” Hounanian said.

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