NAEVR Testifies at House Public Witness Hearing on FY2022 NIH/NEI and Research Recovery Funding

Michael Crair, PhD (Yale University)
Michael Crair, PhD (Yale University)

On May 19, the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee held its virtual Public Witness Day hearing—the first since 2019—on Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 funding for programs within the LHHS appropriations bill. In opening comments, Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who also serves as the full House Appropriations Committee Chair, welcomed the 23 witnesses representing the breadth of the annual LHHS spending bill and recognized that this hearing “is one of the most important things that the Subcommittee does.” Although acknowledging that President Biden’s proposed FY2022 top-line discretionary budget released on April 9 is supportive of these programs that affect all Americans, she noted that the President’s detailed budget is scheduled to issue on May 27. In his opening statement, Subcommittee member John Moolenaar (R-MI), representing Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK), recognized Subcommittee bipartisan support for several programs in the bill, especially the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  

The vision community was represented by NAEVR witness Michael Crair, PhD, who serves as the Vice Provost for Research and the William Ziegler III Professor in the Departments of Neuroscience and Ophthalmology & Visual Science at Yale University. Dr. Crair develops and employs advanced imaging techniques to examine the basic mechanisms that mediate brain circuit plasticity, development, and regeneration, with a focus on the mammalian visual system. Dr. Crair testified about FY2022 NIH and National Eye Institute (NEI) funding, as well as the need for one-time emergency research recovery funding to mitigate COVID-19 pandemic-related disruptions in research.

While supporting President Biden’s proposed FY2022 funding of $51 billion for NIH, Dr. Crair reiterated NAEVR’s request for at least $46.1 billion for NIH’s base program level budget, representing an increase of at least $3.18 billion or 7.4 percent over the FY2021 funding level, reflecting biomedical inflation of 2.4 percent plus growth. He also urged support for NEI funding at $900 million, a $64.3 million or 7.7 percent increase over FY2021 funding level. Supporting the NEI request, Dr. Crair noted that NEI’s average annual growth rate of 2.1 percent over the past nine fiscal years is less than the average annual biomedical inflation rate of 2.7 percent over that timeframe, resulting in NEI’s FY2021 purchasing power being less than that in FY2012.    

Regarding research recovery, Dr. Crair recognized NAEVR’s support for the bipartisan Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act (H.R. 869/S. 289), which includes $10 billion for NIH. Although stating that pandemic-related lab closures have impacted all researchers, he noted that early-stage investigators felt it most acutely, as evidenced by AEVR’s September 2020 video discussion with 22 Emerging Vision Scientists about their research, training, collaborations, and career progression. A written article summarizing that discussion has been accepted for publication in JAMA Ophthalmology.  

After Dr. Crair’s testimony, Chairwoman DeLauro stated her concern about Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) due to family history, since Dr. Crair described the latest research into retinal diseases. She also commented that she wanted to ensure that overall NIH funding increases “don’t shortchange smaller Institutes, as the discoveries there are just as large.” Earlier in the hearing, commenting after a witness urging increased funding for NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), she observed that, “With respect to vision, hearing, and dental, why do we divorce the head from the body in terms of recognizing research for these critical areas—which are especially important health concerns in the underserved communities?”

During the hearing, Chairwoman DeLauro announced that the Subcommittee would hold a May 25 hearing with NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD and several Institute/Center Directors, with the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on May 26.