HBJ: Federal spending bill includes big wins for New England
As originally appearing in The Hartford Business Journal

By James T. Brett

Congress recently passed and President Trump signed into law a $1.3 trillion federal spending bill for fiscal year 2018.

The bill, which funds the federal government through Sept. 30, 2018, includes some big wins for the New England region, particularly in the areas of health care and scientific research.

New England is the proud home of some of the world’s leading research hospitals and universities, which are developing treatments for everything from cancer and heart disease to Alzheimer’s and diabetes, just to name a few. Much of this critical work is supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and so it is welcome news that the omnibus bill passed last week includes a $3 billion increase in NIH funding, bringing the total funding for this agency to $37 billion.

This increase will have a significant impact in New England. In fiscal year 2017, New England received over $3.6 billion in NIH funding, which supported nearly 45,000 jobs and drove nearly $8.5 billion in economic activity. That includes over 6,000 jobs and over $1.2 billion in economic activity in Connecticut alone.

An increase in NIH funding for fiscal 2018 will surely benefit our region, while also helping the institutions here continue their important work to treat diseases and save lives.

NIH isn’t the only area where research funding was increased in this spending bill. The legislation also includes a $300 million increase in funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds a wide range of scientific research, much of which is conducted at colleges and universities.

Many colleges and universities throughout New England are recipients of such funding, and are conducting cutting-edge research in a wide range of fields, including biological sciences, computer and information science, engineering and mathematics.

In fiscal 2017, institutions in New England received a total of over $650 million in NSF funding, including over $68 million in Connecticut alone. The increase in NSF funding, which brings the agency’s total funding to $7.8 billion, will no doubt result in increased funding for the revolutionary research underway on campuses throughout New England.

A third important area addressed by the spending bill is the opioid addiction crisis that continues to have a devastating impact across the country. New England of course has been particularly hard hit.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were nearly 4,500 drug overdose deaths in the region in 2016, including nearly 1,000 here in Connecticut. Fortunately, the spending bill includes some $4 billion for various efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. Included in that total is $500 million to the NIH for addiction research; $1 billion in new grants to states and tribes to support efforts to combat the epidemic; $130 million to help rural communities specifically; and a nearly $300 million increase in law enforcement grant funding to combat the crisis.

Of course there are a variety of other elements of this bill that will benefit New England — including an increase in defense spending, boosts for apprenticeship programs and career and technical education, and funding to upgrade Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, just to name a few.

But the three provisions outlined above will certainly have a significant impact on the economy and quality of life in our region. It is important to note that this deal is the product of bipartisan compromise. There are a variety of other important issues before Congress in the near future, including gun control, immigration reform and infrastructure investment, just to name a few. We are hopeful that this example of bipartisanship is a sign of things to come.

Our region and our nation deserve it.

James T. Brett is the president and CEO of The New England Council, a non-partisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth.

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