D.C. to lend Yale a hand?

Among the lawmakers, lobbyists and other representatives of special interests combing through the $787 billion stimulus package — which President Barack Obama signed into law Wednesday — were University President Richard Levin and Yale’s lobbyist, Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Richard Jacob.

In Washington earlier this month, Levin and Jacob met with government officials about the implications of the economic recovery bill for higher education, and particularly for Yale. The resulting legislation includes a host of measures and projects that could bring new money to Yale, especially in terms of research funding, according to an analysis of the stimulus package Jacob shared with the News. But at the same time, University officials and lawmakers said they will not know exactly how the money will be distributed for several months.

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COMPETING FOR RESEARCH GRANTS

From the University’s perspective, the most significant provisions of the stimulus are those for research grants and contracts — Yale’s second-largest source of income, accounting for about 20 percent of its operating budget.

Jacob said he and Levin told policymakers in Washington that research funding is important to the long-term strength of the economy. The legislation provides a substantial but one-time infusion for research. The National Institutes of Health’s $30 billion budget, for example, received a $10 billion boost.

That increase will certainly benefit the School of Medicine, considering that the school gets a large percentage of its budget from NIH, School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said in an interview Friday.

“About 50 percent of our budget is research grants and the majority of that comes from the NIH,” he said.

In addition to research funding, Alpern said he expects the School of Medicine to receive funds for facility renovations and equipment from NIH.

The National Science Foundation got $3 billion from the stimulus on top of its $7 billion budget, and the Department of Energy’s $4.6 billion budget for basic research was raised another $1.6 billion, Jacob said. The legislation provides $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, on top of a $145 million budget — some of which could find its way to Yale’s arts schools or students — but no additional funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Some of the research funds in the stimulus package are set aside for laboratory renovations and purchases of research equipment, Jacob said, which could be of use to Yale. But most of the money will go toward funding research projects.

BEATING THE CLOCK

The stimulus package’s timeline for awarding research grants could work against the University.

Jacob said faculty research tends to runs on longer time cycles, but federal grants favor projects than can be completed within two years because they only have until Sept. 30, 2010, to disburse the stimulus funding.

Alpern said that timetable is unusually brief. Since the funding must be spent so quickly, it is especially important for lines of communication between NIH and the School of Medicine to be open.

Since the passage of the stimulus package, Alpern said he has been in constant contact with officials from the NIH, which works quickly to allocate its stimulus funding.

“I think [the extra funding]’s good,” Alpern said, but he cautioned that $10 billion is a lot of money to spend, making it even more important for that money to be well-spent, not just quickly spent.

Because the expenditures must be completed on shorter time scales, Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steven Girvin said using money for equipment purchases makes the most sense, though these funds may be more scarce than research grants.

The stimulus package also includes $1.1 billion for research into the effectiveness of medical care, Jacob said, which may interest a number of Yale faculty. And it also provides $19 billion for improving information technology in health care. Jacob said he expects Yale will look closely at what role it can play in this initiative.

DEFRAYING COLLEGE COSTS

The stimulus raises the ceiling on Pell grants — federal need-based scholarships for low-income students — by $500 (to $5,350) next year and by another $200 the following year. The package features $200 million for federal work-study programs, in addition to the $980 million provided through regular budget processes, Jacob said. The legislation also includes a $2,500 tuition tax credit that is refundable for low-income families.

The grant money for college education may help the University defray the costs of financial aid more than it helps Yale students afford tuition. If a Yale student receives a federal grant or outside scholarship, Yale reduces that student’s financial aid by that amount so that the overall financial aid package remains the same.

In other words, with a higher federal grant, Yale gives less of its own money to student’s financial aid package.

“In general terms, increasing Pell grants for everyone in the U.S. is a great thing,” said Caesar Storlazzi, the University’s director of Student Financial Services. “For Yale students specifically, it’s really not going to make any difference.”

WORKING OUT THE DETAILS

Although Jacob’s analysis of the legislation found many opportunities for Yale to receive stimulus funds, the details of how the funds will be spent have not yet been determined.

Figures released by the White House and by members of the Connecticut Congressional Delegation, including Sen. Chris Dodd and New Haven Rep. Rosa DeLauro, do not specify what funding will be directed to individual programs or institutions, including Yale. After federal agencies set funding regulations, state governments will have some discretion to spend, but not for another few months.

“Until we learn more details, it is difficult to know exactly how this is going to play out,” Girvin said in an e-mail. “The federal agencies are still planning how this is going to work, so right now we can only speculate.”

While many components of the bill have the potential to benefit Yale, there are no University-specific earmarks because, as a matter of policy, Yale’s lobbying efforts do not seek pork, Levin said.

The difference between earmarks and the grants Yale receives is that the former are allocated as part of the political process. Research grants, on the other hand, are awarded based on peer review, Jacob said.

“Yale is strong enough that we can subject our faculty to competitive peer review,” Levin said, “and so we’ve opted out of earmarking.”

And without those earmarks, there is no way to know how much of the funds will make their way to Yale.

Raymond Carlson, Florence Dethy, Jessica Letchford, Zeke Miller, Paul Needham, Lauren Rosenthal and Greta Stetson contributed reporting.

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