Brian Higgins, Democratic Party, NY-26


  1. What should be the role of science and scientists in government policy- and decision-making?

The American people have long placed their trust in science and scientists to both move our society forward and protect us from natural and man-made harms. Our longstanding federal investments in scientific research have facilitated significant advancements in our life quality. It should be to clear to all that those investments should continue and be further increased as the risks facing our world continue.

It is unfortunate that the current Administration has diminished the role of scientists, both in the promulgation of regulation and in communication about matters of interest to the public. Since day one, scientists have been cast aside or exploited to achieve political ends. The disregard of science during the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is shameful, not only in how it made our response chaotic, but also in its seeming disconnect in understanding how good information could save lives.

  1. Optional: If you could introduce and/or support any major scientific endeavor, what would it be? (i.e. what would be your “moonshot” project?)

I have long advocated for increased funding to advance the science to develop cures for cancer. Congress has not consistently made federal funding for cancer research a top priority. It is a tragedy when promising research cannot commence due to lack of funding. I am currently a Chair of the House Cancer Caucus, and one of the areas I focus through that role is highlighting advances in treatment – like immunotherapy – that have come to market due to a sustained federal investment. More must be done.


  1. What have you learned from the coronavirus pandemic? What policy changes should be made to both prevent and respond to future pandemics in a more effective way?

The federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been disappointing and chaotic. We have known of the risk of the coronavirus to our population for nearly two decades, yet we were completely unprepared for the size and scale of the transmission of the virus. Part of that is due to failures in leadership, but Congress bears responsibility for not adequately measuring this risk. 

I strongly believe that the COVID-19 pandemic now presents an opportunity to renew efforts to invest in research at the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Health and Human Services generally, specifically on planning for treatments to coronaviruses in the future. As the world’s population grows, and population density increases, the risks of a pandemic spread will grow with it. Our country should invest in research mechanisms to plan for that now, and we should work with the rest of the world toward that aim.


  1. What are your policy priorities to address the ongoing climate crisis? How would these policies impact other systems, if any (e.g. economy, agriculture, education)?

The policies of the Trump Administration are an abdication of our country’s leadership in the world to combat climate change. The next Administration, with support from Congress, should re-assert this vital role. 

The climate crisis is an emergency, but it is also an opportunity. We need to acknowledge that our livelihoods have an impact on global temperatures but that our actions can help preserve our future. Central to those actions is an aggressive transition to renewable energy and incorporating sustainability in many components of our economy. Western New York has long been an innovator in this area – as we are home to Niagara Falls and the Niagara Power Project, one of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the Western Hemisphere – and we can do more. Any transition must, in tandem, act aggressively to provide economic opportunity to Americans. 

I am very concerned about the resilience of the Great Lakes, which represents one of the most significant sources of fresh water in the world. Continued under-regulated industrial and agricultural runoff threatens the health of the lakes, specifically Lake Erie, and the marine and wildlife habitats that rely on the lake for sustenance. I will continue to fight for strong legislation and regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency to protect this water source as well as for increased funding to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to accelerate progress that has already been made.


  1. Do you support the Green New Deal? Why or why not? If you support transitioning our economy away from fossil fuel dependence, how will you support workers who will need to transition to different industries?

Yes. As I mentioned above, the success of any actions to change how our communities are powered needs to concretely and concurrently identify the job opportunities that Americans can have as a result. One of the major failures of trade policy in our country over the past four decades has been the failure of our government to help communities adapt to the impact of free trade agreements on once-thriving industrial communities, like Buffalo and Western New York. To many in my community, “Trade Adjustment Assistance” means “you will lose you job.” Any transition can only be successful if it makes meaningful and substantive investments in the green workforce.

  1. Optional: What does a thriving economy look like for you and your constituents? What role should the government play in addressing income and wealth inequality, particularly in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery? How will science help inform the policies you would introduce or support to achieve this vision?

One of the tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic has been how it has shown the racial disparities in access to health care in our country – from testing to treatment and health outcomes. We know that the scientific community is critical to addressing these disparities. Earlier this year I brought together leaders at the National Institutes of Health and Western New York together to talk about how they can work more closely together to address disparities in our community. One key to overcoming disparities in research is to address the legacy of historic prejudice that minority communities have experienced as research subjects – this can only happen with a dynamic that is inclusive.


  1. What should our education system, from K-12 to higher ed, be doing to prepare students to be adaptable critical thinkers, especially considering the challenges of climate change, misinformation, and work at the human-technology frontier?

As indicated in the question, the next few generations will be faced with increasingly complex policy problems. It is imperative that our students have access to the resources needed to become critical thinkers able to grapple with the effects of massive technological and societal change. Improvements to the traditional elementary, secondary and post secondary education systems are a priority of mine and I believe that there should be a considerable focus on providing high quality, accessible pre-kindergarten for young children. We know that learning does not simply begin at the age of 5. Children who attend high quality preschool programs can easily transition into K-12 school settings, are less likely to repeat a grade, and are more likely to finish high school and pursue higher education. Federal investment in universal Pre-K programs like Head Start help to close school readiness gaps persistent in children from low income and minority families as a result of systemic institutional failures, and gives children the foundational skills needed to be successful. 

In addition, I have long been supportive of career & technical education (CTE). CTE incorporates relevant technical and practical expertise with academic rigor for a number of high wage, high skilled career paths in STEM, Manufacturing, Information Technology, and Human Services. We must prepare students for real world experiences. In exposing students to a variety of careers, we can demonstrate how they can use their innate talents and abilities to face the challenges posed by climate change, misinformation and technological change.

  1. Optional: How, if at all, has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your positions on education policies? What should be the federal government’s role in ensuring public schools are equitably funded and serve the needs of our children? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched school districts very thin and has exacerbated the challenges that already exist in communities, particularly those with high rates of poverty, in providing a quality education to young people. Now that children are learning from home much more, the digital divide has become much more acute, necessitating a stronger federal response on programs to support increased access to high speed broadband for all.


  1. To what extent are you concerned about the threat of climate change in disrupting agriculture in New York State in the coming decades? What, if any, policy changes should be made to ensure our farms are resilient?

The unpredictability of weather patterns and the increasing occurrence and severity of natural disasters due to global warming could have a devastating impact on agriculture and food production in New York State in the coming decades. Farming is inextricably tied to nature’s conditions – from the length of the growing season to the selection of the variant of crop to the eventual crop yield. All of these things are dependent on the environment itself. Changing temperatures should be a cause for concern. In response, there must be continued federal investment in and expansion of conservation programs for farmers, including the Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program. We must make it more feasible for farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices that make farms more climate resilient. In addition, we need increased federal funding for research in agriculture-related sciences, specifically in the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Scientists and experts need resources to conduct studies to create and evaluate new, innovative farming practices that enhance the safety of the nation’s food supply and preserve our natural resources and environment.

  1. Optional: How do you see federal food and agriculture policies impacting public health? What interventions should the federal government employ to help people living in food deserts or with food insecurity?

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the extent of food insecurity for many American families. Nutrition is essential to long lasting, positive health outcomes. Poor nutrition can result in harmful conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and impaired cognitive function. Federal interventions, like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), are extremely important to families who are trying to make ends meet. The federal government must continue to provide flexibilities in the disbursement of these food benefits because families are in dire need of support. For example, the Pandemic -EBT Emergency School Meals Program provides a food benefit for children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals at school, regardless of if the family is traditionally eligible for SNAP. I advocate and support the use of SNAP and WIC at farmers markets. At times, a farmers market is the only source of fresh fruits and vegetables in a given area. USDA should make processing EBT payments more widely available – giving consumers more variety and options to make healthy choices for their families.


  1. Restrictions and suspensions of new work visas, especially for high-skilled workers in science and technology fields, could affect scientific progress and innovation. Do you agree with these restrictions? Why or why not?

The Trump Administration has pursued a cruel, irrational policy agenda on immigration. America’s high quality education institutions and advanced STEM industry has been key to attracting talent globally. We have benefited immensely from the contributions of immigrants in highly specialized fields, particularly innovation in digital companies – a sector in which America is unquestionably the leader. While I believe it is important to invest equally in the American workforce and in preparing students to pursue in-demand occupations, limiting access for immigrants really harms our global competitiveness. I have supported and will continue to support expanding work visas for highly skilled jobs and removing the per country cap on employment based visas.

  1. Optional: As climate change worsens, the number of climate refugees will increase within the US as well as globally. What role should the US play in mitigating this problem? How, if at all, should US immigration policies adapt to this issue?

Prior to the Trump Administration, the United States was a global leader in resettlement of refugees and asylees. Year over year, we offered refuge to more people than all other countries combined. Now, the Administration has gutted our resettlement system by lowering the admissions cap by nearly 100,000 over the past 4 years, introduced extreme, unnecessary vetting measures, and hollowed out our local refugee resettlement infrastructure. Frankly, we need to recommit to the mission of protecting global refugees.


  1. What is your position on the 1996 Dickey Amendment? What role should the federal government take in addressing issues relating to gun violence?

I support ending the Dickey Amendment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be able to study gun violence from a public health perspective.