Federal grants, aid hit by sequester

sequester

Three days after the sequester began to slash federal budgets, roughly 10 University officers met to consider the grim reality of the cuts and their potential effects on the University.

The series of blunt reductions to the federal budget is likely to reduce Yale’s allocation of federal financial aid by around $125,000 and shrink the number and size of University research grants, said Associate Vice President for Federal and State Relations Richard Jacob and Deputy Provost Steve Girvin in a presentation at a Tuesday meeting of administrators. Because the exact repercussions of the budget reductions are not yet clear, Jacob and Girvin said only that Yale will need to monitor the effects of sequestration before taking action in response. For now, the University’s plan of action is to continue urging Congress to enact federal budget policies that protect high-value investments in education and research.

School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said meeting attendees, such as President-elect Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak, were worried about the same issues that concern many peer research universities: the future of the faculty and student STEM research that is likely to lose crucial federal funding.

“We worry when these cuts occur,” Alpern said. “But it’s thoughtful worry.”

Following the Tuesday officer’s meeting, Jacob sent a memo to the faculty Thursday afternoon explaining the expected effects of the sequester on campus student aid, research and scholarship, and government services such as processing applications for residence. While the effect of the sequester will be felt throughout the University, faculty and administrators noted that the impact will be especially acute in STEM fields because research labs rely so heavily on federal funding, according to the memo.

Congress established the across-the-board cuts as a part of the debt ceiling compromise in 2011. The March 1 deadline was intended to incentivize legislators to agree upon more specific budget cuts before the sequester would take effect, but Congress could not overcome its partisan gridlock to decide how to decrease spending in time.

Last Saturday at midnight, President Barack Obama signed the sequester and informed federal agencies that they must cut $85 billion dollars from their budgets by Sept. 30. Domestic programs, including the Department of Education and major University research backers like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, are facing a 5.3 percent reduction to their funding.

The widespread reductions affect numerous institutions that support the University. The NIH, which provided roughly $457 million in federal grant funding to Yale during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, plans to award fewer grants and reduce the value of current grants, according to the Yale memo. The NSF, which awarded 7,850 new grants in fiscal year 2012, is expected to reduce that number by 1,000 in the next fiscal year. The Department of Defense, NASA and the Department of Energy are also planning to reduce future research grants. These institutions have 120 days from March 1 to finalize their cuts.

“The problem is sequestration is just an across-the-board formula,” Alpern said. “If [Congress] had set the budget themselves, they would have protected [research institutions]. But since the cut was across-the-board, we got slammed with everyone else.”

Professor of molecular, cellular and development biology Paul Forscher called the challenging funding climate made worse by the sequestration a “catastrophe” for science programs in the United States. At his lab, which investigates neuron development, a grant that has been continuously funded by the federal government for 23 years is now up for re-review for the first time.

“If this grant doesn’t come through, my lab is in jeopardy,” he said.

Since the cost of supporting education for graduate students falls largely on federal teaching and research grants, the sequestration has the potential to reduce the number of graduate students admitted to Yale in future years, said Dean of the Graduate School Thomas Pollard. He added that graduate students in STEM departments will be hit harder because financing their education depends more heavily on federal funding than that of students in the humanities and social sciences.

Salovey told the News on Monday that he does not expect students to feel the reductions to financial aid. While administrators expect the work-study program and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant funding to decrease by about $125,000 for the 2013–’14 academic year, Jacob said, the University is committed to providing additional aid to any student affected.

Until the University receives specific figures for decreases in funding, administrators will continue to assess the situation and formulate a plan for how to respond, Alpern said.

“We’re going to have to really watch,” Alpern said, “and be ready to address whatever happens.”

The sequester also requires a 7.9 percent reduction to the defense budget.

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