James T. Brett: Some big wins for New England in federal spending bill

  The Dartmouth {College}-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, N.H., a recipient of National Institutes of Health research funds.

The Dartmouth {College}-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, N.H., a recipient of National Institutes of Health research funds.

BOSTON

Last month, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law a $1.3 trillion fiscal  2018 federal spending bill. The bill, which funds the federal government through Sept. 30, includes some big wins for New England, particularly in the areas of health care and scientific research.

New England is home to leading research hospitals and universities, which are developing treatments for numerous devastating diseases. Much of this work is supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and so it is welcome news that the omnibus bill passed last week includes a $3 billion increase in NIH funding, bringing the total funding for this agency to $37 billion.

This increase will have a significant impact in New England. In fiscal year 2017, New England received more than $3.6 billion in NIH funding, which supported nearly 45,000 jobs and drove nearly $8.5 billion in economic activity, including nearly 2,100 jobs and more than $350 million in economic activity in Rhode Island alone. An increase in NIH funding will surely benefit our region, while also helping our medical institutions continue their important work.

The spending bill also includes a $300 million increase in funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds a wide range of scientific research, much of which is conducted at colleges and universities. Many institutions throughout New England receive such funding, and are conducting cutting-edge research in a variety of fields.

In fiscal year 2017, New England institutions received more than $650 million in NSF funding, including nearly $50 million in Rhode Island. The increase in NSF funding for the current year will mean greater support for research that is underway throughout New England.

A third important area addressed by the spending bill is the opioid-addiction crisis, which has had a significant impact in New England. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were nearly 4,500 drug overdose deaths in the region in 2016, including 326 here in Rhode Island-

Fortunately, the spending bill includes some $4 billion for various efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, including funding for addiction research, grants to bolster state efforts and support law enforcement, and support for rural communities. This additional support will no doubt help the various efforts underway in our region to combat this epidemic.

Of course there are a variety of other elements of this bill that will benefit New England — including an increase in defense spending, boosts for apprenticeship programs and career and technical education, and money to upgrade Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, just to name a few.

But the three provisions outlined above will certainly have a significant impact on the economy and quality of life in our region.

It is important to note that this deal was just that: a deal, the product of bipartisan compromise. There will be a variety of other important issues before Congress in the near future, including gun control, immigration reform, and infrastructure investment. We are hopeful that this example of bipartisanship is a sign of things to come. Our region and our nation deserve it.

James T. Brett is the president and CEO of The New England Council (newenglandcouncil.com), a nonpartisan alliance of public and private organizations across the region that lobbies in the region, in Washington and elsewhere for programs that benefit New England's economy and broader society.