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As President Joe Biden prepares to jam a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 spending package through a Democrat-controlled Congress without GOP buy-in, more than $1 trillion of Congress’s previous coronavirus spending is still sitting unused.
While some in Congress would argue that much of this money is scheduled to be spent eventually, at least a trillion American dollars are leftovers unspent by the industry or institution they were originally designated to help. According to the Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget, 60 percent of these remaining funds were authorized in the Response and Relief Act, which hurriedly passed in late December of 2020, but some date back to the CARES Act in March.
One authorization in the CARES Act granted federally funded schools resources “for cleaning and disinfecting” as well as “assistance in counseling and distance learning,” but all $100 million dollars dedicated to the pandemic-era education improvements have been left untouched. The Biden administration has been walking back campaign promises to get schools open, for which they insisted huge piles of money were necessary.
Billions of other dollars committed to the nation’s vaccine rollout by Congress, which designated $4 billion of American money to “fund COVID-19 vaccination in low-income countries,” are also left abandoned.
Congress also left billions in unallocated funds across multiple categories including vaccine rollout, the paycheck protection program, and other grants meant to aid Americans following nearly a year of government-mandated lockdowns that wreaked havoc on people’s livelihoods. Congress has not made any plans for how it will pay for all of this spending, especially as lockdowns suppress the nation’s ability to generate the value that underlies tax intake in future years.
Despite this leftover money, congressional Democrats are moving forward to draft and eventually pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue” plan against the pleas of Republicans cautioning against yet another round of massive deficit spending. Democrats’ legislation not only reflects Biden’s willingness to compromise his preaching on unity to push his agenda but also directs more money to industries and institutions where there is still a surplus of unused funds.
According to Biden’s draft of the plan, which passed the Senate last week, $350 billion should be sent to states to aid with school reopenings as well as vaccine distribution, COVID-19 testing, and paying frontline workers. An additional $130 billion is requested to give to schools and higher educations institutions “to help them reopen and operate safely or to facilitate remote learning,” very similar requirements as those in the unused Safe Schools and Citizenship Education grant in the CARES Act. Biden’s plan also suggests $20 billion be used to fund a national vaccination program. All of these areas still have unused billions from previous spending packages sitting around.
In addition to provisions concerning education and COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Democrats are also considering a $15 minimum wage, $1,400 direct payments to qualifying Americans, billions in loans to businesses, money for “a rent and utility assistance fund,” and extra weekly unemployment benefits per week until at least September 2021. Economists say all of these measures will drag out the economic pain especially the nation’s poorest citizens will experience.