Dr. Sanjay Asthana

The UW-Madison Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, led by Dr. Sanjay Asthana, could be affected by proposed federal research cuts in President Donald Trump's budget. The proposal would cut 18 percent of funding for the National Institutes of Health, which awards a grant to the UW Initiative to End Alzheimer's.

Deep spending cuts in President Donald Trump’s budget proposal could threaten the federal funding UW-Madison researchers rely on to investigate Alzheimer’s disease, asthma and other ailments, and slash support for programs that help low-income students afford college, according to scientists and campus officials.

The Trump administration says its budget, which increases military and homeland security spending while cutting domestic programs, shifts money from ineffective or poorly targeted programs to bigger priorities.

But at UW-Madison, a research institution that receives 30 percent of its annual funding from the federal government, officials are raising alarms, warning the reduced spending could affect hundreds of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of research.

The budget outline the White House released Thursday in many cases did not include details of how large spending cuts would be or how agencies would implement them. Some Congressional Republicans are already balking at the budget, which would cut several broadly popular programs, so it’s unclear how much of Trump’s initial proposal will pass.

Of concern to scientists, though, is the budget’s plan to reduce federal support for research, including a cut of nearly $6 billion from the National Institutes of Health, which awarded $285 million for research at UW-Madison last fiscal year.

Proposed cuts to the U.S. Department of Education would affect the university as well by reducing or eliminating outright grant and work-study programs that thousands of UW-Madison students receive, financial aid director Derek Kindle said.

“It would result in less accessibility for our students and students across the country,” Kindle said of the budget.

‘Pace of discovery’ could slow

Trump’s budget proposal calls for a cut of 18 percent from the National Institutes of Health, and reorganizes its institutes and centers to “help focus resources on the highest priority research and training activities,” according to the budget outline.

The administration is also looking to reduce funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science by $900 million and make cuts to climate research in the Environmental Protection Agency.

About $890 million of UW-Madison’s $3 billion annual budget came from the federal government this fiscal year, making it by far the university’s largest source of revenue. About three-quarters of those federal dollars are grants, while the rest is financial aid.

Officials estimate the cuts in Trump’s budget could cost UW-Madison 850 jobs and reduce funding by $350 million over the life of current federal grants, many of which are funded over multiple years, said Natasha Kassulke, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education.

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Research efforts at UW-Madison that rely on NIH funding include the UW Initiative to End Alzheimer’s, which examines the disease and develops therapies and care plans to treat it, said Rick Moss, senior associate dean for basic research, biotechnology and graduate studies in the School of Medicine and Public Health. The UW Carbone Cancer Center and a study of high asthma rates in urban areas are also funded through the NIH, Moss said.

Professor Samuel Poore, a researcher whose study of advanced prosthetics is funded by the Department of Defense, called the NIH “the crown jewel of medical research in the world,” and said the proposed cuts “would be absolutely devastating to the greater scientific community.”

Current NIH awards at UW-Madison total $723 million. Depending on how the agency manages the funding cut, it might reduce those grants when they are renewed annually, Moss said, which could lead labs to lay off employees and, more broadly, curtail important research.

“It would diminish their activities tremendously,” Moss said of UW-Madison researchers. “(If) you reduce that activity, you reduce the pace of discovery, you reduce the pace of innovation.”

Grants, work-study reduced

Trump’s budget reduces funding for the Department of Education by 13 percent. Cuts in higher education include:

  • Eliminating the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which provided $2.6 million to fund 2,183 grants for low-income students at UW-Madison in the 2015-16 school year.
  • “Significantly” reducing the federal work-study program, which subsidizes part-time jobs as a form of financial aid, providing $2.3 million for 2,078 UW-Madison students last year.
  • Taking $3.9 billion from the reserves of the Pell Grant program, another award for low-income students, which lawmakers and advocates had hoped to use so students could apply the grants to summer classes. The Pell Grant’s federal funding would remain the same.

UW-Madison sophomore Rebecca Thiry said she relies on her part-time job, funded through the work-study program, to pay for food and living expenses during the school year after money from her other financial aid awards runs out. With one sibling in college and another starting soon, Thiry said her parents can’t afford to support her financially through school.

“Anything I need during the semester comes from my work-study earnings,” said Thiry, who makes about $10 per hour answering phones and staffing the financial aid office’s front desk.

The Trump administration says work-study and other programs identified in the budget are not targeted well enough to serve the students who need them, or have not been shown to be effective. But Kindle, the UW-Madison financial aid director, said he has not seen evidence that programs facing cuts in Trump’s budget are ineffective.

Administration officials also say reducing the number of grant programs will simplify a complex federal aid system. Kindle again disagreed.

“It does not reduce complexity,” he said. “It’s just a reduction of funding.”

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