April 16, 2020

Stimulus funding helps the Earth and space science community

Posted by Caitlin Bergstrom

Caroline Gleason and Emily Orzechowski are AGU’s Spring 2020 Public Affairs Interns


Three emergency COVID-19 stimulus bills have passed into law over the last month. The contents of these bills – from billions in funding for emergency vaccine development, to financial support to hospitals, to direct cash payments for millions of Americans – have been reported on widely. AGU is also offering many resources to help our community, including an online learning exchange, a PPE exchange, and expanded mentoring through AGU College of Fellows. Here are some of the implications of these bills for the Earth and space science community.


COVID-19 stimulus funding for Earth and space science

Much of the funding provided in these bills is designated to help research agencies adapt to and respond to COVID-19. For some agencies, this means redirecting resources. The Department of Energy is harnessing the power of the national laboratory system; NASA is using its supercomputing capabilities to help researchers; and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is investigating ways to reduce transmission of the virus through contaminated surfaces or materials. Other agencies are using this funding to move most of their operations to the digital sphere to comply with stay-at-home directives while still maintaining mission-critical functions.


Funding summary


Federal Agency Emergency Appropriation Purpose
Department of Energy $127.5 million –  Support for Scientific User Facilities (e.g. national laboratories), including equipment, personnel and enabling technologies

–  Transition to remote access

National Science Foundation $76 million –  Research grant funding

–  Grant administration

National Aeronautics and Space Administration $60 million –  Safety, Security and Mission Services


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration $20 million –  Support continuity of operations, including National Weather Service life-and property-related operations
U.S. Forest Service $3 million –  Reestablish failed or abandoned experiments due to COVID-19 restrictions
Environmental Protection Agency $2.25 million –  Research on methods of reducing transmission of COVID-19 from contaminated surfaces

–  Cleaning and disinfecting labs



More relief on the horizon

While the majority of stimulus funding has so far focused on direct emergency support for COVID-19 response, research and operations, members of Congress are making statements underscoring the importance of the broader scientific enterprise for American wellbeing, economic prosperity and competitiveness: Rep Don Beyer (D-VA) stated, “American research agencies are one of the best reasons we will overcome this plague.” And Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), ranking member of the House Science, Space, and Technology committee also said, “As we address the novel coronavirus it’s never been more important to support the exceptional work done by America’s research community.”


Congress is out of session until at least April 20, with the House likely to remain in recess until May 4 or later. While members are working in their districts, interest groups, members of Congress and the president are discussing possibilities for expanded and new stimulus funding – including for the broader science and research communities.


How can you affect future stimulus policy?

It’s difficult to think about anything other than the COVID-19 pandemic these days. From practicing social distancing to learning how to wash your hands like a surgeon, we’re all doing what we can to protect our communities and get through this together. During this time, we encourage you to reflect on the ways your science is being impacted as well. Are your experiments and field seasons affected? Is your institution implementing hiring freezes? Are you and your students or colleagues experiencing added pressures that are impacting their ability to do contribute science? You can let AGU know by filling out this survey.


You can also use your voice to talk with members of Congress. Check out how to contact your elected officials, sign up for action alerts and keep an eye on our Twitter account (@AGUSciPolicy) for updates on the latest developments. Many members of Congress are transitioning to hosting virtual town halls, which are great opportunities to ask questions and share your stories with your legislators. You can find these virtual events through your member’s website or social media, or through the Town Hall Project.


Finally, AGU submitted a letter to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on 13 April that calls for additional emergency appropriations for the Earth and space sciences, especially for students, post-docs and other early career scientists hit hardest by university curtailments and consequent uncertainty about their next career steps. You can read that letter here.