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Congress poised to increase Regional Innovation funding

May 10, 2018
By: Jason Rittenberg

Both the House and Senate are beginning the appropriations process for FY 2019 this month, and early indicators suggest that EDA’s Regional Innovation Strategies program could see an increase over its $21 million for FY 2018.

In the House, the relevant subcommittee under Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) and Ranking Member Jose Serrano (D-NY), advanced a bill to fund the program at $21 million — the highest level ever approved by the committee. The new Senate appropriations chair, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), was over the subcommittee as it moved the program from $10 million to $21 million. The new subcommittee chair, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), has been a champion of the program and noted its importance to Kansas in his opening remarks to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a budget hearing this morning.

SSTI’s Innovation Advocacy Council has been working with organizations across the country as well as congressional offices on the Hill to increase RIS appropriations. A coalition letter signed by 11 innovation-focused organizations earlier this year asked Congress to fund the program at $50 million, and a separate letter signed by 50 RIS awardees had a similar message. Thanks in large part to work by SSTI members, more than a dozen congressional offices have confirmed that they have requested additional funding — many requesting $50 million — for the program in FY 2019.

Demand for RIS awards has greatly exceeded funding since the program’s first appropriation in FY 2014. For its lifetime appropriations of $57 million, EDA has received 830 applications for $245 million in funding.

The House commerce, justice and science appropriations bill also would fund MEP at $140 million, equal to its FY 2018 level, and increase NSF’s budget by more than $400 million to $8.2 billion.

The FY 2019 budget process has only just begun. The House will still need to advance its bill through the full committee and floor, while the Senate has not introduced its subcommittee draft. This year’s process benefits by starting with an agreed upon overall funding level — a continuation of the two-year agreement that held up the FY 2018 process — but is still likely to be done after the start of the next fiscal year.

In the meantime, the White House has introduced a plan to retroactively cut $15.4 billion from funding that remains available from FY 2017 and older budgets. The proposal includes eliminating $30 million from the Economic Development Administration, curtailing the ability of the agency to use remaining funds in the FY 2018 award cycles. The House and Senate appropriations committees have yet to decide if or how to prioritize this proposal against advancing the FY 2019 funding bills.

eda, federal budget