NIH offers one-time relief for Kirchstein award pay gap

 

Last week, the ASBMB’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee sent a letter on behalf of the society’s members asking that the National Institutes of Health provide direction, best practices and policy changes to help investigators deal with the squeeze that the Department of Labor’s new overtime rule will put on research budgets.

Following our request, this week the NIH released notice NOT-OD-17-002, which announces a one-time supplemental funding allowance for Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards. This allowance should help investigators cover the pay increase that takes effect Dec. 1.

As we covered here, the NIH announced earlier this year that Kirchstein stipend levels will rise in accordance with the new overtime rule.  While this mandatory stipend increase was met with mixed reviews, there was a universal concern about where investigators would find the money to pay for it.

Until this week, the NIH had remained silent about the funding gap, leaving researchers understandably annoyed as the rule change will force investigators to reassess their budgets for research and staff.

This week’s notice provides a mechanism for obtaining supplemental funding calculated from projected pay increases for postdoctoral researchers at levels 0, 1, and 2. Investigators will have to apply for the Parent Announcement for Administrative Supplements to Existing NIH grants funding opportunity.

The NIH has taken an important step to ensure that the research community can abide by the new overtime rule and cover subsequent salary increases with minimal financial burden.  However, the community still is seeking guidance on how to cover the pay gap for postdocs on other NIH-funded research grants.

According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics’ data, the NIH supported more than 19,000 postdocs through fellowships, research grants, traineeships and other types of support in 2014. The vast majority of those postdocs are not supported by Kirchstein awards.

We urge the NIH to provide this constituency with, at the minimum, the same guidance and supplemental funding opportunities afforded to the Kirchstein group.

We are now less than a month from the implementation of the Labor Department’s overtime rule, which will either require employers to increase salaries to a minimum of $47,476 per year or provide full-time salaried workers overtime pay for hours that exceed a normal work week.  We hope the NIH will seize this opportunity to serve the community and workforce that it supports and provide researchers and postdocs with the assistance they will need to keep contributing to biomedical research.

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