House Tax Plan Could Drive Away Future Scientists, Groups Say

Friday, December 1, 2017

The House Republican tax reform plan could discourage careers in science and stifle medical progress by making graduate school less affordable, according to science groups.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science and more than 50 scientific and engineering societies asked the Senate in a Nov. 29 letter not to support language in the House-passed tax reform bill (H.R. 1) that would change some financial aid programs for graduate students to taxable income. The groups sent their letter the same day the Senate voted 52-48 to begin floor debate on the tax bill, moving the Senate version closer to a reconciliation with the House bill.

If adopted, AAAS told senators, these tax repeals would have an “outsized impact” for graduate students pursing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). “Repealing the very provisions that allow graduate students to continue to study in critical STEM fields means that we will be shutting the door on new opportunities for discovery, exploration and innovation,” the letter said.

Health Research Impact

Students in STEM disciplines account for about 60 percent of tuition waivers, which is a type of financial aid in which a college foregoes all or part of tuition charges, Ellie Dehoney, vice president of policy and advocacy at Research!America, told Bloomberg Law. Taxing these tuition waivers would create an impact on health research that is “about as direct as you could get.”

“Heath research requires health researchers, and if we block the path to that career, we are also blocking the path to future medical progress,” Dehoney said in a Nov. 29 email.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), one of the architects of the 21st Century Cures biomedical innovation law, told Bloomberg Law in a Nov. 30 statement, “The awful GOP tax scam bill will set science and technology back, not just in biomedicine, but across the board. Eliminating the tax credit for graduate tuitions will be devastating for current students as well as potential ones.”

The House version, which passed Nov. 16 by a 227-205 vote, would repeal tax credits on student loan interest deductions, graduate student tuition waivers, the Hope Scholarship Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, and educational assistance programs, AAAS said.

For a doctoral student at a public institution with a $14,500 fellowship and a $9,500 tuition waiver, taxable income would jump from $8,550 to $18,050, according to an analysis from the Council of Graduate Students. That student's taxes would then jump from $847.50 to $2,272.50, a 168 percent increase. “Eliminating this provision would increase tax liability for graduate students on ‘income’ they never see,” the council said in its analysis.

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