Viewpoint: Omnibus delivers for New England
By James T. Brett, Worcester Business Journal
In November, Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed into law a $1.7-trillion Omnibus Appropriations Bill for fiscal 2023. The bill includes landmark investments in education, health care, environmental protection, working families, and research and innovation. The New England Council believes this legislation will drive our region’s economic growth.
Here are a few of the biggest wins for New England.
Increased Pell Grant – The Pell Grant is a key tool to expanding access to higher education, providing support for low-income students to attend college. The council has long supported increasing the maximum Pell Grant and was pleased this bill increased the maximum award by $500 to $7,395 for the 2023-2024 school year, marking the largest increase in over a decade.
Federal research funding – New England is home to some of the world’s leading research universities and hospitals, which conduct research on the most pressing medical and scientific challenges. The council has long supported federal investments in research and was pleased the Omnibus included $47.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health – a 5.6% increase – and an historic 12% increase for the National Science Foundation to $9.9 billion.
Mental health & substance abuse – The need for increased mental health and substance abuse services is one of the biggest challenges facing our region. Fortunately, the spending bill included billions of dollars for increased services, including $1.01 billion for Mental Health Block Grants, $385 million for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, and $1.6 billion for the State Opioid Response Grants.
Energy efficiency & renewable energy – New England is a leader in efforts to decrease emissions and develop renewable energy resources. The spending bill includes $3.46 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy – a $260-million increase over the previous year – enabling investments in vehicle technologies, hydrogen research and development, and renewable grid integration, as well as marine, wind, and solar energy.
Retirement savings – Finally, the spending bill includes provisions aimed at bolstering retirement savings. The bill included legislation championed by U.S. Representative Richard Neal (D-MA), known as SECURE 2.0. This bill will expand access to retirement savings plan enrollment, allow emergency withdrawal from plans, increase the opportunity to make catch-up contributions, and support workers paying off student loan debt.
Beyond these provisions, the spending bill includes investments to bolster working families, expand affordable housing, and support our law enforcement, military, and veterans. We have no doubt our region’s economy will benefit from the important investments this bill makes.