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Where $5 Trillion in Pandemic Stimulus Money Went – The New York Times

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Alicia ParlapianoDeborah B. SolomonMadeleine Ngo and March 11, 2022
Health care
Other
Businesses
State and local
Individuals and families
$745 billion
$1.8 trillion
$1.7 trillion
$482 billion
$288 billion
Individuals and families
Businesses
$1.8 trillion
$1.7 trillion
Workers received nearly $700 billion in unemployment benefits, including an extra $600 per week from March to July 2020.
State and local aid
Health care
Other
Roughly $80 billion went to airlines to help pay pilots, flight attendants and other staffers who were furloughed as travel dried up.
$745 billion
$482 billion
$288 billion
Almost $70 billion went to struggling transit agencies that rely on commuters for income.
Individuals and families
Businesses
$1.8 trillion
$1.7 trillion
Health care
Other
State and local
$745 billion
$482 billion
$288 billion
Stimulus bills approved by Congress beginning in 2020 unleashed the largest flood of federal money into the United States economy in recorded history. Roughly $5 trillion went to households, mom-and-pop shops, restaurants, airlines, hospitals, local governments, schools and other institutions around the country grappling with the blow inflicted by Covid-19.
Economists largely credit these financial jolts with helping the U.S. economy recover more quickly than it otherwise would have from the largest downturn since the Great Depression: The pandemic recession was the shortest on record, lasting only three months.
“What the money did was to basically make sure that when we could reopen, people had money to spend, their credit rating wasn’t ruined, they weren’t evicted and kids weren’t going hungry,” said Louise Sheiner, an economist with the Brookings Institution. “It is a lesson that if you don’t want a recession to have really long-lasting bad effects you spend a bunch of money and you prevent it.”
Yet as the anniversary of the American Rescue Plan approaches, and nearly two years after the government effort began with the CARES Act, the full impact of the spending remains unclear. Some of the money has yet to be distributed. Some of the aid has been criticized as wasteful or has resulted in alleged fraud. And some economists, along with a lot of Republican lawmakers, say the flood of cash has helped fuel inflation.
Here is a snapshot of where all the federal money has gone so far, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington that has maintained the most comprehensive tally of pandemic financial support. Using government sources, the tally factors in spending as well as loans, tax breaks and payment deferrals.
Stimulus checks
Unemployment benefits
Child tax
credit
expansion
$817 billion
$678 bil.
$93 bil.
Retirement
plan rules
$14 bil.
Delayed
student loan
payments
Child
care
block
grants
Child care
provider
grants
SNAP and other food
assistance
Other tax
breaks
$71 bil.
$24 bil.
$24 bil.
$39 bil.
$28 bil.
Other
$10 bil.
Stimulus checks
$817 billion
Unemployment benefits
SNAP and other
food assistance
$678 bil.
$71 bil.
Delayed student
loan payments
$39 bil.
Child care and
development
block grants
$28 bil.
Child care
provider
grants
Other
$10
bil.
$24 bil.
Retirement
plan rules
Other tax
breaks
Child tax credit expansion
$24 bil.
$93 bil.
$14 bil.
Stimulus checks
$817 billion
Unemployment benefits
SNAP and
other food
assistance
$678 bil.
$71 bil.
Delayed
student loan
payments
$39 bil.
Child care
block grants
$28 bil.
Other family
services
$34 bil.
Child tax credit expansion
$93 bil.
Retirement
plan rules
Other tax
breaks
$14 bil.
$24 bil.
Between March and July 2020, at the height of the deadly first wave of the outbreak, unemployed workers were able to get $600 per week on top of what their state provided in jobless aid. Self-employed and gig workers, who typically would not qualify for unemployment benefits, also were eligible to receive support.
Another big chunk went to families: More than 150 million households received stimulus checks. And about $62 billion was ultimately spent expanding the food stamp program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
What was the impact?
The nearly $2 trillion that went to these groups helped avoid the kind of economic collapse that many had feared, and it aided the recovery by giving consumers money to spend on food, electronics, home furnishings and other goods.
It also helped prevent millions of people from falling into poverty. A University of Michigan analysis of Census Bureau surveys found the largest benefits went to the poorest households and those with children.
In addition to complaints that President Biden’s stimulus money contributed to inflation, Republican lawmakers and governors blamed the more generous jobless benefits for discouraging people from returning to the work force and prompting a labor shortage. Several states ended the program ahead of its Sept. 5 expiration last year, saying that would propel people back into the work force.
A handful of studies have found that the extra benefits played a minor, if any, role in prolonging workers’ return to the labor market. The U.S. economy has regained more than 90 percent of the 22 million jobs that were lost during the early weeks of the pandemic.
Paycheck Protection Program
Economic Injury Disaster Loan program
Loosen limits on
business losses
$835 billion
$349 bil.
$193 bil.
Delay of employer
payroll tax
$85 bil.
Airlines
Restaurants
Economic
Injury
Disaster
Loan
advances
$80 bil.
$29 bil.
$27 bil.
Employee
retention
payroll tax
credit
Interest
deductions
Support
for Federal
Reserve
loans
Other
$13 bil.
$11 bil.
Other
tax
breaks
Paid
leave
credit
Venues
$26 bil.
$13 bil.
$25 bil.
$11 bil.
$9 bil.
Paycheck Protection Program
$835 billion
Economic Injury Disaster Loan program
Airlines
$349 bil.
$80 bil.
Support for
Federal
Reserve loans
Restaurants
$29 bil.
$25 bil.
Economic Injury
Disaster Loan
advances
Other
Venues
$11 bil.
$13 bil.
$27 bil.
Employee
retention payroll
tax credit
Loosen limits on business losses
Delay of employer
payroll tax
$193 bil.
$26 bil.
$85 bil.
Interest
deductions
Paid leave
credit
$11b
$13 bil.
Other tax
breaks
$9b
Paycheck Protection Program
$835 billion
Economic Injury Disaster Loan
program
Airlines
$80 bil.
$349 bil.
Restaurants
$29 bil.
Other
$49 bil.
E.I.D.L.
advances
$27 bil.
Payroll
tax credit
Delay of
employer
payroll tax
Loosen limits on business
losses
$26 bil.
$193 bil.
$85 bil.
Other tax
breaks
$33 bil.
More than nine million small businesses — generally those with 500 employees or fewer — collected loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. The program provided loans that could be forgiven if businesses used the money for certain expenses, essentially turning the loans into grants.
When the program began in April 2020, it was largely a worker-retention tool. But as the pandemic dragged on, Congress weakened those requirements, allowing companies to keep the cash even if they made deep staffing cuts.
The government also adapted its longstanding disaster loan program to provide low-interest loans to almost four million businesses totaling $349 billion — far more than the program had lent out during its entire nearly 70-year history. Because those loans must be paid back, with interest, the program’s cost to taxpayers is far less than the total lent out.
Was it successful?
So far, the verdict is mixed.
A recent analysis by the economist Michael Dalton found that every $1 in wages that would have been lost without the Paycheck Protection Program cost $4.13 in relief money. Because the program wasn’t narrowly targeted — virtually every small business in the country was eligible — it benefited some companies that didn’t need the money, and loose fraud controls allowed scammers to skim off billions.
But for hundreds of thousands of businesses it was a life preserver. Mr. Dalton’s research found that companies that got P.P.P. loans had modestly higher employment and higher wages, and were less likely to close, than comparable businesses that didn’t. The effects were especially pronounced for the smallest businesses and for those in areas with higher poverty rates.
Non-public
schools
Elementary and secondary
education
American Rescue Plan direct aid
$244 billion
$190 bil.
$6 bil.
Education
grants and
work force
$5 bil.
Increases in the
federal share of
Medicaid
payments
Transit
$69 bil.
CARES Act direct aid
$149 bil.
$72 bil.
Election security
$0.4 bil.
Transportation
infrastructure
$10 bil.
American Rescue Plan direct aid
CARES Act direct aid
$244 billion
$149 bil.
Elementary and secondary
education
Increases in the federal
share of Medicaid
payments
$190 bil.
$72 bil.
Transportation
infrastructure
Transit
$69 bil.
$10 bil.
Non-public
schools
Education grants
and work force
Election security
$0.4 bil.
$6 bil.
$5 bil.
American Rescue
Plan direct aid
CARES Act
direct aid
$244 billion
$149 bil.
Elementary and
secondary
education
Increases in
federal share
of Medicaid
payments
$190 bil.
$72 bil.
Transportation
infrastructure
Transit
$69 bil.
$10 bil.
Non-public
schools
Education grants
and work force
Election
security
$6 bil.
$5 bil.
$0.4 bil.
At the outset of the pandemic, governments used the funds largely to cover virus-related costs.
As the months dragged on, they found themselves covering unexpected shortfalls created by the pandemic, including lost revenue from parking garages and museums where attendance dropped off. They also funded longstanding priorities like upgrading sewer systems and other infrastructure projects.
K-12 schools used early funds to transition to remote learning, and they received $122 billion from the American Rescue Plan that was intended to help them pay salaries, facilitate vaccinations and upgrade buildings and ventilation systems to reduce the virus’s spread. At least 20 percent must be spent on helping students recover academically from the pandemic.
While not all of the state and local aid has been spent, the scope of the funding has been expansive:
Utah set aside $100 million for “water conservation” as it faces historic drought conditions.
Texas has designated $100 million to “maintain” the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.
The San Antonio Independent School District in Texas plans to spend $9.4 million on increasing staff compensation, giving all permanent full-time employees a 2 percent pay raise and lifting minimum wages to $16 an hour, from $15.
Alabama approved $400 million to help fund 4,000-bed prisons.
Summerville, S.C., allocated more than $1.3 million for premium pay for essential workers.
What was the impact?
The aim of the money was to prevent the kind of painful budget cuts that state and local governments were forced to make in the wake of the Great Recession, when revenues plunged and costs soared, a recipe that prolonged America’s sluggish recovery and hampered some local economies for years.
Economists largely agree that the money helped local governments shoulder significant pandemic-related costs, and many governments avoided deep budget cuts. Many states have even reported surpluses.
But federal rules prevented local governments from using CARES Act funds to fill budget shortfalls, and state and local governments wound up slashing hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs anyway. Several states have sued the Biden administration over restrictions it imposed on the use of funds.
What hasn’t been spent?
A significant portion has yet to be spent, in part because more than $100 billion remains to be distributed by the Treasury Department. Only 19 states, plus Washington, D.C., received their entire allotments of American Rescue Plan funds in 2021. A second batch will be distributed this year.
Governments have until 2026 to spend the funds, and disagreements over where the money should go and who has authority to spend it have slowed planning in some communities.
School districts have until January 2025 to spend the money allocated to them. But even with several years left, schools have voiced concerns about meeting that deadline as many districts struggle with labor shortages and supply-chain delays.
Medicaid coverage
Grants to health
providers
Vaccines, treatments
and supplies
$56 bil.
$156 billion
$64 bil.
Testing, monitoring and
research
Medicare changes
$38 bil.
$46 bil.
Vaccine and
treatment
development
Health
agencies
COBRA
coverage
Expanded
A.C.A.
subsidies
$12 bil.
$18 bil.
$45 bil.
$22 bil.
Other
Waive certain
cost-sharing
$11 bil.
$13 bil.
Grants to health providers
$156 billion
Vaccines,
treatments
and supplies
Testing,
monitoring
and
research
Vaccine and
treatment
development
$64 bil.
$45 bil.
$46 bil.
Health
agencies
Other
$11 bil.
$12 bil.
Waive certain
cost-sharing
Medicaid
coverage
Medicare
changes
COBRA
coverage
$56 bil.
$38 bil.
$13 bil.
$18 bil.
Expanded A.C.A.
subsidies
$22 bil.
Grants to health providers
$156 billion
Vaccines,
treatment
develop-
ment
Vaccines,
treatments,
supplies
Testing,
monitoring,
research
$46 bil.
$45
$64 bil.
Other
$23 bil.
Expanded
A.C.A. subsidies
Medicaid
coverage
$22 bil.
$56 bil.
Waive certain
cost-sharing
$13 bil.
Medicare
changes
COBRA
$18 bil.
$38 bil.
Grants to health providers were intended to help hospitals and other facilities stay afloat as they lost revenue, in part because elective procedures were not being performed and patients avoided seeking other routine care. Funds were also used to accelerate the deployment of vaccines, expand testing and advance Covid-19 treatments.
The American Rescue Plan broadened health insurance subsidies available under the Affordable Care Act for two years, one of the most substantial changes to the law since its passage nearly 12 years ago. And billions were set aside to ensure that people enrolled in Medicaid throughout the pandemic were not at risk of losing coverage.
What was the impact?
Even though coronavirus tests were in short supply during different waves of the outbreak, leaving many Americans to wait hours in line over the holidays last year, the nation most likely would have been even less equipped to handle the spike in demand for testing without the stimulus packages, experts say.
The distribution of grants to health providers, however, has been fraught with challenges. Some of the funds have been given to wealthier hospitals while smaller, poorer hospitals have received significantly less federal aid in comparison. Some larger hospital chains also used federal aid as they bought up weakened competitors during the pandemic.
The stimulus funds spent on expanded A.C.A. subsidies have played a large part in the record-high enrollment for health plans through marketplaces, said Larry Levitt, the executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. There is no guarantee, however, that the additional assistance will continue after the two-year program expires.
Housing
programs
Payments
to farmers
Disaster spending
$78 billion
$41 bil.
$39 bil.
Other govt.
agencies
Defense
agencies
Grants to colleges and
universities
$13 bil.
$15 bil.
Other
U.S.P.S.
loan
$59 bil.
Transportation
programs
$12 bil.
$10 bil.
$21 bil.
Grants to
colleges and
universities
Disaster spending
$78 billion
$59 bil.
Transportation
programs
Other
govt.
agencies
Housing
programs
$21 bil.
$39 bil.
$15 bil.
Other
Payments
to farmers
Defense
agencies
$12 bil.
$41 bil.
$13 bil.
U.S.P.S.
loan
$10 bil.
Grants to
colleges
and
universities
Disaster
spending
$78 billion
$59 bil.
Housing
programs
Other
govt.
Transportation
programs
$39 bil.
$15 bil.
$21 bil.
Other
Payments
to farmers
$12 bil.
$41 bil.
U.S.P.S. loan
$10 bil.
Defense
agencies
$13 bil.
An influx of money was also designated for other areas hurt by the pandemic.
Colleges and universities received $59 billion to make grants to students. Federal government agencies received additional funding for personal protective equipment, facility cleaning, telework support and resources to distribute the billions of dollars in aid across the country.
Some programs have experienced hiccups, including the billions set aside to help renters avoid eviction. The money was supposed to be provided to tenants and landlords, but cities and states initially struggled to distribute the funds. Several states have now used up nearly all of their share of the money, even as distressed tenants are still in need.
Another $41 billion went to farmers, many of whom were forced to destroy their crops at the outset of the pandemic as the closing of restaurants, hotels and schools left them without buyers. Some farm money has yet to be spent — a $4 billion debt relief program for Black farmers remains in legal limbo, and no funds have yet been delivered.
Source: COVID Money Tracker by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington think tank. The data shown includes the amounts reported either dispersed or specifically committed as of Feb. 28 after being authorized by Congress through large Covid relief legislation or smaller appropriations bills. It does not include money that was approved but not committed or dispersed, or money that was approved by administrative or Federal Reserve action.

The amounts come from official government sources, in addition to the group’s estimates of how certain programs were likely to be disbursed over time.
Sara Chodosh contributed reporting. Additional production by Karl Russell.
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