$1 trillion in COVID relief remains unspent from previous bills, report finds

March 10, 2021
In The News

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Some lawmakers, notably Republicans, have been criticized for not supporting the latest coronavirus relief package. They argue nearly $1 trillion dollars is left over from previous relief deals. But a recent report from a Washington, D.C. budget watchdog group suggests that amount of money indeed remains.

It comes as the U.S. House on Wednesday approved President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the latest effort to combat the economic and health crises brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We already have $1 trillion which has been appropriated but not yet spent,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.)

“There is still a trillion of that $4 trillion that has not yet been deployed,” said Rep. Fred Keller (R-Pa.)

The non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, located in Washington, D.C., shows that statement is true. Their analysis this week finds that of approximately $4.1 trillion Congress has approved in COVID relief so far, only $3.1 trillion has been spent or committed.

Some lawmakers opposed to Biden’s American Rescue Plan have suggested Congress re-allocate existing money to programs that need it before passing additional dollars.

“Theoretically, policymakers could take the remaining $1 trillion and re-allocate toward other uses,” explains Garrett Watson, senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation.

“But, that would come at the cost of not going toward the programs and benefits specified in the previous two bills,” Watson added, referencing the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March 2020, and the $900 billion supplemental package passed in December.

Another big question: where is that money? Right now, it’s locked up mostly at the federal and state levels. For example, the popular Paycheck Protection Program, which kept many businesses afloat during the pandemic, still has $141 billion leftover, according to Small Business Administration data last updated March 7 and CRFB’s COVID Money Tracker, which updates government relief efforts during the pandemic.

“Loan programs make up roughly $500 billion, or about half, of that gap,” Watson said. “Of the $470 billion allocated toward health, about $270 billion has been spent so far.”

But some GOP lawmakers are facing challenges getting answers when the money leaves Washington, which is partly why they are voting against this relief package.

“We’re having a hard time, in many cases, getting governors to tell us what have they done with all of the billions and billions of dollars they’ve gotten,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) “A lot of that money is not spent.”

CFRB’s report also notes that $1 trillion isn’t necessarily sitting in government bank accounts waiting to be spent. For example, those P.P.P. loans take days or weeks to process, so it’s a matter of simply getting that money released.