Frequently Asked Questions Regarding COVID-19's Impact on Federal Awards

These FAQ will be updated as we receive additional questions and information.

Most recent update: 5/17/2020

General SPA Operations

What SPA services will be available during this period?

SPA is continuing with normal operations with staff working remotely. Due to remote work, additional time may be needed to prepare, review and submit proposals and other award-related actions. Please contact us as soon as possible via Outlook email with any proposal or award needs and/or questions so that we can provide the best support possible to you during this time.

See SPA Deadlines for Submitting Proposals for External Funding for submission timelines, we ask that you consider these timelines and all other SPA policies as best as you can right now. As noted, actions may require additional time, and additional lead time beyond that stipulated in the policy is advised.

Communications will be sent via our listserv and posted on the SPA webpage if there are changes.

Funding Development

Are agencies funding research on COVID 19 and if so, how can I find these opportunities? Agencies are beginning to release funding opportunities to conduct research and services related to COVID 19. SPIN, the university's online subscription database has established two funding searches specific to COVID-19 and SPA is cataloging funding opportunities and resources to support COVID 19 research. See the Funding and Other Resources and Opportunities Related to COVID-19 section for information on the SPIN database and funding announcements. Contact your research development specialist to plan your submission.

Proposal Submission

I am self-isolated, quarantined, and/or at home caring for a sick family member and am unable to submit my grant by the stated deadline. May I request an extension?

Maybe. Most federal agencies, including NSF and NIH, do not grant prior approval for late submissions; however, there are existing policies that address extenuating circumstances.

Current NIH guidance can be located at NOT-OD-15-039 and Special Exceptions to NSF's Deadline Date Policy (PAPPG 19-1).

It is unclear how each agency will interpret NIU's position that the university is open but working with modified work schedules when they evaluate extension requests. We strongly encourage you to discuss your specific situation with both your agency Program Officer and your SPA Research Development Specialist as soon as possible.

We also suggest monitoring the Council on Governmental Relations web repository of agency guidance related to COVID-19. This site is updated regularly with agency information and may be helpful to you in your planning.

Update (3/31/2020): Each agency is handling proposal extensions differently. Some agencies are moving deadlines while others are approving extensions on a case by case basis. Check your agency website and with your RDS to confirm the most current due date for your proposal. If you feel you will be unable to meet an existing proposal deadline, follow the solicitations' s guidance for contacting the agency to request an extension. Requests should clearly explain how COVID-19 is impacting your ability to submit on time; remote work should not be the only basis for requesting an extension as multiple agencies have indicated that remote work should not make it impossible to complete work or meet deadlines.

Travel Charges, Including Cancellation Costs

Are travel cancellation costs due to COVID-19 allowable as direct charges to sponsored projects?

Yes. such costs may be charged to sponsored projects. In doing so it is reasonable to assume that you have requested and been denied a refund, and that you have documentation of your request. Document all transactions related to cancellation fees, refunds, etc. and forward this documentation to your Grants and Contracts Associate as soon as possible if you would like to charge your grant.

Please note that several airlines and hotels are waiving travel cancellation fees for at least the immediate future.

Update (3/31/20): The NIU Controller's Office released information on March 18, 2020 providing guidance on how to document reimbursement for travel impacted by COVID-19. You may find the NIU COVID-19 Travel Reimbursement for Grants form (PDF) helpful in documenting these charges. Include the form when submitting these expenses to your Grant and Contract Associate for review.

I was reimbursed for my airfare that was charged to my grant, My travel is now canceled, what do I do now?

If an airline ticket or other travel cost has been charged to a sponsored project, you have already received reimbursement for that cost and your trip has been canceled, the payment must be credited to the grant. Please contact your Grants and Contracts Associate to determine the best way to do this.

If a traveler can return home from travel (domestic or foreign) but at much greater cost than usual, is the additional cost allowable on the grant? Does it matter if the country of origin is a country with a CDC-level warning?

Yes. Change and/or cancellation fees are allowed as long as the circumstances were outside of your control and the original purpose of the travel was for the direct benefit of the award.

Update (3/31/20): The NIU Controller's Office released information on March 18, 2020 providing guidance on how to document reimbursement for travel impacted by COVID-19. You may find the NIU COVID-19 Travel Reimbursement for Grants form (PDF) helpful in documenting these charges. Include the form when submitting these expenses to your Grant and Contract Associate for review.

Can travel insurance be charged to grants?

No. Travel insurance is not a university reimbursable expense therefore, it cannot be charged to grants. See Accounts Payable for other flexible fare options that may be currently available due to COVID-19.

I am a PI on a project that involves hosting a conference with collaborators participating from around the country and world. I have already incurred expenses for the rental space and hotel. I am working with the venue to get a credit but there will be a sizeable cancellation or penalty fee. Can I charge these fees to my award? And can I pay the travel fees and any associated costs for the collaborators that were planning on attending?
  • Does it matter if I elected to cancel it because it was prudent to do so?
  • Does it matter if it was in a CDC level 3 location?
  • Does it matter if my institution is not allowing it?

If you believe it would be unwise to hold the conference, you should confer with your program officer and the sponsoring agency grants management specialist to decide whether to cancel the meeting, postpone the meeting, or convert the meeting to an on-line format.

You should make this request in writing via email to your program officer with a CC to SPA at dlittle@niu.edu so that SPA is aware of the request and can make sure the grants specialist is aware of it. At most agencies, the grants specialist must also approve changes such as this. In the request, discuss the basis for the proposed cancellation (prudent circumstances, CDC level 3 location, or institutional determination that travel will not allow the organizer to attend.)

We recommend you make a firm decision about keeping or canceling your meeting early enough to enable your participants to take advantage of discounts offered by airlines or hotels related to COVID-19 changes or early cancellation deadlines (particularly for hotels). In addition, your decision to cancel the conference may assist some participants in obtaining institutional support for their cancellation costs.

If the funding agency approves the cancellation, the non-refundable costs for the venue may be an allowable charge to the project if the project was originally scheduled to incur these costs.

In general, the costs for participants should follow the funding stream originally intended to pay for their attendance.

If your grant was reimbursing all or part of the participation costs for all attendees, it may be appropriate to also charge some or all of their cancellation fees to the grant.

If participants were covering their own attendance costs, then they would be responsible for covering any cancellation costs based on their institution or employer's policy.

Contact your Grants and Contracts Associate to discuss your specific situation.

Remote Work

If employees must have their home as their work location, will they still be able to get paid by grants?UPDATED

Yes, as long as the employees can work successfully in the remote environment, salary can continue to be paid from the project. Supervision must follow current NIU practice established for the COVID-19 circumstances, including acceptable forms of work verification for hourly staff and those requiring direct supervision (e.g., requiring the employee to be on an electronic messaging system, or to email their supervisor with arrival or departure times).

If employees cannot successfully work from home (e.g., the nature of their duties requires them to work on-site or they do not have home internet or access to a computer) and alternate duties that benefit the project cannot be identified, then it may not be appropriate to charge the salary to the award. Contact your Grants and Contracts Associate to discuss.

Update (3/31/2020): University policy for the COVID-19 emergency situation is for employees to continue in paid work status even if all options and opportunities to perform service have been exhausted. The decision to charge salaries in these circumstances on grants depends on the funding agency. To date, awards funded by the NIH, NSF, DOJ, and DOD are allowing salary charges on grants, consistent with university policy. SPA continues to evaluate other agencies' positions on this subject. SPA will remove unallowable salary charges from grants where necessary.

Update (5/17/2020): Principal Investigators are reminded that their approval of appointments and salary charges as of May 16, 2020 is an attestation confirming that the employee can work at the requested salary level and within the university's operating plan for COVID-19. Refer to the May 5, 2020 email to faculty, chairs, and deanstitled Salary Authorizations on Externally Funded Grants – Expectations During COVID-19.

Can I charge supplies relating to telework (i.e., such as a laptop, printer, office supplies, etc.) to my grant?

No. These types of expenses are considered administrative costs (indirect costs), and generally are not appropriate as a direct cost unless specifically approved by the sponsor. If you need to work remotely from home, please consult with your department to identify whether computing resources are available.

What happens if local, state, and/or federal government employees are unavailable to perform their duties (e.g., issue prior approvals or process awards)?

We expect that funding agencies will issue guidance in the event these circumstances become likely. SPA will share these updates as soon as we are able.

If a student or a researcher needs to access a dataset from home to keep working on a project, how do we address privacy requirements, if the data set contains sensitive or private information?

If secure access (e.g. remote access via VPN or other means) to the dataset is not possible, the dataset should not be accessed, or analysis of risk should be considered. Please contact DoIT through the online self-service portal and the Chief Information and Security Officer/Information Security will assess whether remote connectivity/VPN is secure and appropriate for the data.

We recommend you document the period of time for which you were unable to work on the dataset should you need to request a no-cost time extension or make scope adjustments to your award.

Scope of Work/Deliverable Obligations

How will a pause in my research impact my grant expenditures?

Any activities not affected by a pause can continue to be charged to the grant.

Additionally, keep in mind that there should not be a significant disengagement of the PI or other senior key personnel from affected projects. Significant disengagement is defined as absence from the project for more than 3 months or a 25% reduction in time.

Update (3/31/2020): Agencies are beginning to release guidance for handling delays in research or program progress. Some agencies are allowing greater flexibility for charging costs that may be necessary to wind down or restart research activities due to COVID-19 interruptions. If you believe these budget changes may impact your ability to accomplish your current scope of work, please contact your Program Officer to discuss. We also recommend noting these impacts in your progress report. Your Grants and Contracts Associate can assist in evaluating the financial impact on your grant for any planned changes you need to make.

Note: All charges must still be reasonable and necessary for the performance of the project.

Some agencies are providing greater flexibility with no-cost extensions (but bear in mind that you must still have grant funds available to implement the extension).

Are grant funds included in the university's request to pause all non-essential purchases? Updated

No, grant funds are not included in this request. PIs may continue to make purchases necessary for scope of work and project deliverables on research performed remotely or deemed essential under the stay-at-home order. Funds may also be spent to manage project disruptions due to COVID 19 if the agency allows such spending.

In all cases, all charges must still be reasonable and necessary for the performance of the project.

Update (5/4/2020): The position that the pause on spending would not apply to grants was confirmed in President Freeman's April 30, 2020 communication to campus

My grant award requires cost share, will the university's request to pause all non-essential purchases apply to cost share commitments?

If cost share is a condition of the award, purchases necessary to meet these commitments will be considered an essential purchase. However, it is recommended that you postpone the purchase until the following fiscal year, if at all possible, within the terms of the award. Contact your Grants and Contracts Associate for guidance.

If you are concerned about your ability to meet your award’s cost share commitments due to staffing changes or other COVID 19 related disruptions, please also discuss this with your Grants and Contracts Associate. Failure to meet original cost share commitments can result in return of award funds to the sponsor and long-term loss of funding so careful planning of these commitments during this time is essential.

Am I able to travel to client sites to provide time sensitive services that are required by my contract?

Update (3/31/2020): Due to the Governor's stay-at-home order, the university has updated its position on travel for grant and contract-funded or mandated travel. This position is noted in the NIU COVID 19 FAQs under International and Domestic Travel.

Am I able to travel to nearby national laboratories to conduct my research?

Update (3/31/2020): Due to the Governor's stay-at-home order, the university has updated its position on travel for grant and contract-funded or mandated travel. This position is noted in the NIU COVID 19 FAQs under International and Domestic Travel.

My project has a very strict timeline and I am concerned about a possible failure to perform within the agreed upon statement of work. This failure may be due to a slow down or gap in activities, particularly where staff might need to work from home.

If the scope of work demands a precise schedule in order to make an experiment viable, then you should document instances where that schedule was unable to be met and the data resulting from that experiment may not be able to be used (or can only be used with certain cautions). If it is not the case that such precision is required for scientific reliability but rather needed for good business practices or to meet an agreed-upon sponsored project schedule, then it is anticipated that agencies will recognize the unique circumstance and be flexible if they can, including granting no-cost time extensions if needed.

You should reach out to the program officer as soon as a delay is anticipated and CC dlittle@niu.edu to keep SPA informed and to ensure the sponsoring agency grant specialist is also aware of the delays.

If your work is funded by industry or under a contract, it may be possible to invoke force majeure or other clauses to manage this disruption in services. Contact SPA at asosp@niu.edu as soon as you anticipate a delay and SPA will respond to you to determine appropriate next steps.

In all cases, principal investigators should keep detailed documentation of your specific situation and basis for any work adjustments you may need to make to provide justification for any adjustments that may need to be requested when business returns to "normal" as well as to help SPA evaluate the specific terms of a contract which may address this type of situation.

Will agencies consider longer no-cost time extensions if they are needed to finish a project after disruption?

You should document the actual impact of COVID-19 on the progress report for your grant(s) to provide substantiation for any future no-cost time extension request. It is not known at this time if agencies will consider longer-than-normal no-cost time extensions or multiple no-cost time extensions in this situation, but most agencies allow no-cost time extensions up to 12 months without prior approval and as long as funding is available.

As noted elsewhere in these FAQs and in SPA's General Guidance for COVID-19, you should contact your program officer and CC dlittle@niu.edu as soon as you are aware of a delay.

Update (3/31/2020): NIH will allow additional extensions, beyond the first approved 12-month extension, for clinical trials and human subjects research that has been disrupted due to COVID-19. See NIH FAQ's on Flexibilities for Applicants and Recipients.

Any no-cost extension necessary due to COVID-19 should be stated as such and the impact on the originally approved timeline should be clearly described in the rationale for the extension. This applies to all no-cost extensions requests.

I can't get to my research site and I'm worried that my research will be severely impacted. Will the sponsor provide incremental funding and/or additional time so that I can successfully complete the aims of the award?

We expect federal agencies will recognize the difficulties inherent in this situation and that they will work with institutions to facilitate the conduct of the project.

Until we receive further agency guidance, be reminded that NIU is required to (1) inform the program officer and agency grants specialist if the need arises for additional federal funds to complete the project and (2) notify the federal agency as soon as "problems, delays, or adverse conditions which will materially impact the ability to meet the objective of the Federal award are known". In the latter case, the notification must include a statement of the action taken or contemplated (as best you can given the current information available) and any assistance needed to resolve the situation.

It is possible that there will not be an immediate answer on what is needed to resolve the situation; in that case, you should simply indicate that we will report back when more is known.

As noted elsewhere in these FAQs and in SPA's General Guidance for COVID-19, investigators must CC dlittle@niu.edu when contacting the program officer so SPA is aware of the potential delays and can work with you to make sure the sponsoring agency grants specialist is aware and to obtain any necessary approvals.

Update (3/31/2020): Agencies are beginning to release guidance for handling delays in research or program progress. Some agencies are allowing greater flexibility for charging costs that may be necessary to wind down or restart research activities due to COVID-19 interruptions, but have noted that grantees and Investigators should not assume that supplemental funds will be available to cover these additional costs.

If you believe these budget changes may impact your ability to accomplish your current scope of work, please contact your Program Officer to discuss both a revised scope of work and potential for supplemental funds. Your Grants and Contracts Associate can assist in evaluating the financial impact on your grant for any planned changes you need to make. Because a request for supplemental funding is considered new money to NIU, SPA must approve it prior to submission to the agency. Please contact your Research Development Specialist for assistance.

Some agencies are providing greater flexibility with no-cost extensions (but bear in mind that you must still have grant funds available to implement an extension.

My IRB/IACUC is not able to process my protocol or protocol continuation. May I proceed anyway?

In general, no, the activities covered under the protocol may not begin or continue, except as needed to safeguard the lives of the human subjects or the animals. All review boards are still operating. If you have a question about the status of your protocol, please contact Patty Wallace, Compliance Coordinator at pwallace@niu.edu.

I am having difficulty completing my progress report due to self-quarantine and/or the recent shift to remote work. Is it possible to postpone submission?

New (3/31/20): Some agencies are extending deadlines while others are advising the PI to notify his/her Program Officer of the need to postpone submission.

Agency notices are being posted to the main RIPS COVID-19 webpage under Funding Agency Websites for COVID-19 Information. If your agency has not released guidance on this subject, contact your Program Officer. Please note that while it may be possible to postpone submission of your progress report, agencies have made clear that doing so will delay receipt of continued funding. Both the NIH and NSF have explicitly stated this in their guidance. While SPA understands the difficult circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, we suggest postponing progress reports only when absolutely necessary and for as short amount of time as possible.

If you plan to postpone your submission, please notify SPA at asosp@niu.edu so we can track the new due date.

Salary Charges

My project budget included three months of summer salary this year for my graduate student and two months of summer for myself as PI. We can continue some of the work remotely, but without access to our labs we will need to scale back our summer effort. Can I still put through the originally planned salary on the grants? NEW

New (5/17/2020): No, salary authorizations that exceed planned effort is a violation of federal regulations. Appointments must be a reasonable estimate of the work that will be performed and this work must be verified under time and effort reporting. Refer to the May 5, 2020 email to faculty, chairs and deans titled Salary Authorizations on Externally Funded Grants – Expectations During COVID-19 for expectations in managing appointments after May 16, 2020.

Appointments can be increased as on campus operations resume and you are able to restart your lab activities.

I need to travel to a country with a CDC-level warning to conduct field work necessary for my grant, can salary still be charged to the award? What if I need to stay in the country longer than originally anticipated? Does it matter what level of CDC-level warning exists?

You must follow NIU's current travel policy. Currently, NIU is prohibiting all domestic and international air travel. All exceptions to this policy must be approved by the Provost in advance of travel. Any decision to allow international travel must be fully documented based on reasonableness and direct benefit of the project. If the travel is approved, you may charge corresponding salary while on travel to the grant.

Can salary continue to be charged if a PI is on multi-day self-isolation period? Does it matter if I am able to continue to work on the project from the self-isolation site (e.g. home or designated facility) or am not able to work (e.g., because the work must be done in a wet lab or field site)? Does it matter whether the self-isolation is self-imposed, institution-imposed, or government-imposed?

As long as you remain engaged in the project you should be able to receive salary. Significant disengagement is defined as absence from the project for more than 3 months or a 25% reduction in time.

With schools or elder-care facilities closing, can award-funded employees stay at home to do child-care and eldercare and still charge their salary to a grant?

Yes. If an awarded funded employee stays home due to a school or facility closure for child or elder care needs, the employee's salary would be charged according to NIU HR's current salary and benefit practices for COVID-19.

What if I am home sick and can't work on my project? Can my salary still be charged to the grant?

Yes. Sick leave and other paid absences that are permitted under NIU policy may be charged to the grant.

If the agency program officer or grants officer is unavailable (or if the agency is closed) due to COVID-19, can grant personnel continue to work and charge salary to the project?

In most cases, you should be able to continue to work until your period of performance and funding is exhausted.

If a program change needs to be made that requires prior agency approval and approval is not forthcoming from the agency (agencies generally have up to 30 days to respond to a prior approval request), SPA will work with you to evaluate whether to proceed with the action for which approval was requested.

SPA is currently assessing agency guidance for managing prior approvals related to COVID-19 disruptions and will communicate these changes as they become known.

Update (3/31/2020): Agency notices are being posted to the main RIPS COVID-19 webpage under Funding Agency Websites for COVID-19 Information. Please continue to visit this site and check your email regularly for any guidance you may receive from SPA or your agency that would be specific to your funding program or award.

Purchase of Covid-19 Related Items On Grants

Can supplies such as masks, wipes, gloves, etc., required to comply with suggested COVID-19 protections be charged to my grant? Updated

Materials and supplies that are purchased solely for the direct benefit of the project are allowable; however, supplies needed for general cleaning should be covered by a non-grant or departmental account.

Updated (5/17/2020): See additional information under the Reopening Research Facilities section of theses FAQ.

Is there a separate process I should follow to document COVID-19 expenses? New

New (5/17/20) Yes, you should follow the guidance provided by the Division of Finance and Administration to document COVID-19 expenses. Coding these expenses will help SPA and other university units accurately track and identify these expenses for future reporting and agency compliance purposes as well as for potential reimbursement. For example, accurately coding these costs will make it easier to respond to supplemental funding your sponsor may make available in the future.

Do not follow this coding process for grants (e.g. an NSF RAPID award) to perform COVID-19 research.

Updated (5/17/2020): See additional information under the Reopening Research Facilities section of theses FAQ.

Additional Cost Considerations

Reminder calls to research study participants to stay home if they are sick are already taking place. Some of our research study participants are older and more vulnerable. Emails from my institution have reminded employees to stay home if sick. Can I charge unexpected costs that may arise to the grant? (For example, additional labor charges for time spent calling study participants).

Costs to projects related to contact with study participants (to guide their participation or to decide for alternate plans) are allowable costs to the project. If the volume of such work involves significant amount of additional labor charges, you may consider requesting a supplement from your funding agency.

Be sure to document the actual additional cost in these circumstances to guide requests for supplemental funding or additional time.

Update (3/31/2020): Due to the Governor's stay-at-home order, NIU has suspended all face-to-face data collection with remote or virtual collection. The university offers several alternative solutions to face-to-face data collection that may be useful for continuing your study. Please see Human Research Considerations under the Research, Compliance, Integrity and Safety under the RIPS COVID-19 webpage.

I have lab animals that need to be cared for and am concerned that staff may not be available to care for the animals or have the access they need to facilities if NIU closes.

NIU is required to have animal care emergency plans in place as a condition of a federal award involving animal research. Consult Shannon Stoker, director of the Office of Research Compliance, Integrity and Safety at stoker@niu.edu or the director of the Animal Facilities - either Barrie Bode or Doug Wallace.

For all of the above, are the answers any different by sponsor?

Yes, they can be. These FAQs are based on federal regulations and federal sponsors, nonfederal sponsors may have different terms and expectations. Review your award terms carefully and contact SPA for assistance.

Reopening Research Facilities

I have a grant-funded project that I will be restarting once my lab reopens. Can I charge these costs to my grant? NEW

New (5/17/20): Most agencies are allowing costs related to the pausing and restarting of grant activities to be charged to the award. All charges must still be reasonable and necessary for the performance of the project. For example, if the chemicals you previously purchased under the grant expired while your lab was closed, and you now need to purchase new ones, the cost of the new chemicals may be charged to the grant.

Please contact your Grants and Contracts Associate to make sure the cost meets the agency’s requirements for COVID-19 flexibilities and that they are accurately coded for reporting purposes.

The lab I oversee includes grant-funded research. Can I ask Investigators to use grant funds to outfit the lab to meet COVID-19 safety precautions such as installing plexiglass shields? NEW

New (5/17/20): Probably not. Labs are often used for multiple activities so allocating this type of cost to any one project would be very difficult. The cost to outfit the lab to meet COVID-19 safety requirements is an institutional responsibility and should be considered part of the university’s overhead costs.

Will the cost to reopen facilities and labs be considered essential purchases for university approval purposes? NEW

New (5/17/20): Generally, yes; however, costs associated with reopening each facility will be evaluated with the application.

My research has been delayed due to lack of access to my field site, will I be able to extend the project to make up for this lost time? NEW

New (5/17/20): Most agencies allow no-cost time extensions up to 12 months without prior approval and as long as funding is available. Additional no-cost time extensions are provided with agency approval.

In all cases, document the actual impact of COVID-19 on your work progress in your progress report to support any future no-cost time extension request you may need.

When requesting an extension, clearly state that it is due to COVID-19 and explain how the pandemic impacted your originally approved timeline. Be sure that the "COVID-19" box is selected in the SPA internal prior approval system when submitting your no-cost extension through SPA.

Finally, be sure to contact your program officer to discuss your delays and future project plans.

I donated some grant-funded PPE to a local hospital; do I need to remove these costs from my grant account? NEW

New (5/17/20) Probably not. Most agencies are permitting the donation of grant-funded PPE to hospitals and other health-care entities. Agencies have different reporting requirements to account for these donations, contact Shannon Stoker at sstoker@niu.edu in the Office of Research Compliance, Integrity and Safety (ORCIS) to determine how to proceed.


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