$1.7 trillion omnibus delivers for New England

Landmark investments will have wide-ranging benefits for the region

In the final days of the 117th Congress, a $1.7 trillion Omnibus Appropriations Bill was passed for fiscal year 2023, and President Biden signed it into law on Dec. 23. Included in this sweeping legislation are landmark investments in education, healthcare, protecting our environment, supporting working families, and investing in research and innovation.

The New England Council believes this legislation will help drive our region’s continued economic growth.

Here are a few of the biggest wins for New England in the bill:

• 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 amount — in fact, we have advocated for doubling the maximum grant. While the omnibus did not go so far as to double Pell, it did increase the maximum award by $500 to $7,395 for the 2023-24 school year, marking the largest increase since the 2009-10 school year. This boost is a step in the right direction toward making college more affordable for millions of students and preparing the workforce of the future.

• Federal research funding: New England is home to some of the top research institutions, including world-class universities and hospitals. These facilities conduct research on some of the most pressing medical and scientific challenges facing our nation. As such, the Council has long supported federal investments in research, and so we were pleased that the omnibus included $47.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health — a 5.6 percent increase — as well as a historic 12 percent increase for the National Science Foundation to $9.9 billion. These investments will undoubtedly spur medical and scientific breakthroughs in our region, while supporting thousands of jobs at our research facilities.

• Mental health and substance abuse: The need for increased mental health and substance abuse services is one of the biggest health challenges facing our region and the nation at large. The demand for services has only surged in recent years as the pandemic has presented new challenges for those who struggle with mental health and addiction. Fortunately, the spending bill included billions of dollars for new and increased services, including $1.01 billion for Mental Health Block Grants, $385 million for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, and $1.6 billion to states to address the opioid-misuse epidemic through the State Opioid Response Grant. These funds will help expand much-needed services in our communities and set millions of people on the path toward recovery.

• Energy efficiency and renewable energy: The New England region is a leader in efforts to decrease carbon emissions and develop renewable energy resources. The spending bill included a number of measures that will support these efforts and help create new jobs in the clean energy sector. The $3.46 billion appropriated in the bill for energy efficiency and renewable energy — a $260 million increase over the previous fiscal year — will allow for investments in vehicle technologies, hydrogen research and development, weatherization assistance programs, and renewable grid integration, as well as marine, wind and solar energy.

• Retirement savings: Finally, the spending bill also includes a number of provisions aimed at bolstering retirement savings and ensuring a secure financial future for millions of American workers. The bill included a legislative package championed by the dean of the New England House delegation, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, known as SECURE 2.0. Specifically, the 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, just to name a few. Inclusion of these provisions will undoubtedly help U.S. workers better prepare for their futures.

Beyond these provisions, the spending bill also includes investments to bolster working families, expand access to affordable housing, and support our law enforcement, military and veterans.

The New England Council is grateful to our region’s congressional delegation for their efforts to advocate for our region’s priorities in this important piece of legislation. We have no doubt that our region’s economy will benefit from the important investments these bill make in the year ahead.

James T. Brett is president and CEO of The New England Council, a regional alliance of businesses, nonprofit organizations, and health and educational institutions.

Categories: Opinion