Medical Research Grants Shortchange HBCUs, but Science Bill Looks Promising
WASHINGTON — Historically Black colleges are getting just a small piece of the medical research pie, says Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., who is trying to see that Congress takes some action on the issue this fall.HBCUs in 1997 received less than 1 percent of all higher education grants from the National Institutes of Health, the government’s leading program to support health research, said Davis, citing information from NIH’s Office of Financial Management. The HBCU share amounted to just $78 million, Davis says – while colleges overall received $8.46 billion.“Inclusion of minority institutions in medical research has been inadequate,” says Davis, a second-term lawmaker from Chicago.The issue spilled over in House floor debate recently on a bill to increase federal support for health care research. Several Congressional Black Caucus members used the opportunity to urge NIH and other agencies to do more to address health disparities between Whites and individuals of color.The House approved the bill, but only after Davis successfully inserted an amendment that would encourage more HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions to apply for funds — and make these institutions eligible for a greater number of NIH grants. The plan, he said, will target institutions that are “capable and able to help produce the needed researchers and professionals that this country relies so much upon.”In approving the Health Research and Quality Act, members also embraced other initiatives to help reduce racial disparities in health care. At Congressional Black Caucus urging, the House also approved creation of an Office of Special Populations at HHS’ Agency for Health Research. The office would conduct research and development projects on issues affecting low-income and minority populations. With these new amendments, the House approved the bill by a 417-to-7 vote. Further debate is likely before Congress adjourns for the year.Meanwhile, some high-profile issues remain on the table as Congress slowly begins to wrap up its fiscal 2000 budget debate by approving some new education funds.Among the most recent winners are historically Black colleges and universities, which will receive $10 million through a National Science Foundation program to promote undergraduate reform. The program has a special emphasis on reaching underserved populations, congressional aides say. The NSF bill also has another $10 million to help colleges and universities that typically have lacked the research capacity to participate in large-scale programs. Congress hopes to reverse this trend through a new Office of Innovation Partnerships at the science agency.President Clinton signed the science bill into law in late October.That same bill also will extend the life of the AmeriCorps program, through which students earn college benefits in exchange for work in their communities. Facing White House and Senate opposition, the House of Representatives backed away from earlier efforts to terminate the program, which is part of the Corporation for National Service.Education still is a thorny topic, however, as lawmakers struggle to complete action on spending for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The House is under pressure to abandon budget ceilings adopted in 1997 to free up new funds for domestic programs, as favored by the White House. By late October, House members signaled some willingness to include more money for education, but not enough to meet administration requests. As a result, education programs have only temporary spending for the new fiscal year that will expire at October’s end.The House and Senate also must bridge differences on a variety of issues, including aid to HBCUs. The House has proposed level funding of $172 million for the main HBCU program and HBCU graduate assistance, while the Senate has countered with a $6.5 million increase. The White House is on record favoring a larger increase of $15 million next year.Both chambers support a Pell Grant increase but must settle differences on how much to raise the maximum grant. The new GEAR UP program to promote college access also divides Congress’ Republican leaders. The House wants to eliminate the new program, while the Senate has proposed expanded funding at $180 million. The administration, which just awarded the program’s first grants, favors $240 million for fiscal 2000.
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