The federal government has pumped about $4 trillion into the US economy since the pandemic began in March 2020, sending cash directly to households, boosting unemployment benefits and creating several new grant and loan programs for businesses.
Now that the US economy is nearly back to normal, some are asking whether the government gave away too much money — and, with millions still in need, whether it reached those who needed it most. Nearly 37% fewer small businesses are open compared to January 2020, the employment rate for low-income workers is still well below pre-pandemic levels and an estimated 7 million Americans are behind on their rent.
Another $2 trillion of the nearly $6 trillion included by Congress in several Covid relief packages is yet to be disbursed, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonprofit that’s tracking the spending.
The latest piece of legislation, which passed in March, authorized $1.9 trillion in spending on benefits for states, businesses and individuals — including advance payments of an expanded child tax credit, which will send families with children thousands more dollars starting July 15.
Here’s a partial list of who got money and how much as of May 10, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:
Small businesses: $1 trillion, with $42 billion more on the way
Congress created a variety of loan and grant programs for small business owners, many of whom had to shut their doors because of state and local lockdown rules throughout the pandemic.
The Paycheck Protection Program, created in March 2020, reached the most businesses, delivering more than 11 million loans worth nearly $800 billion that the government will forgive if the owner used a certain portion of money to pay staff.
Another $220 billion has been lent to business owners through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which provides low-interest, long-term loans.
Congress subsequently created two other grant programs, one for struggling restaurants and one for shuttered theaters, music venues, promoters and museums. The restaurant program has delivered nearly $6 billion to date and another $23 billion is on the way. Theaters and venues are still waiting for the money to go out. Congress has authorized $16 billion.
Stimulus checks: $804 billion
The US government has sent $804 billion directly to low- and middle-income individuals and families via three rounds of stimulus payments that were delivered via direct deposit, checks or debit cards.
Each round had slightly different qualifying parameters, but lawmakers purposely didn’t put too many limitations on the checks in order to get the cash out as quickly as possible. The lowest-income Americans got the full amount and the value gradually phased out for those earning more. The first round, which sent payments worth up to $1,200 per person, cost taxpayers the most — $388 billion. The second round of payments were worth up to $600 per person and cost $142 billion.
Lawmakers narrowed eligibility for the last round so that it excluded individuals who earn at least $80,000 a year and families who earn at least $120,000 a year. The IRS has sent $1,400 per person this year, at a cost of $274 billion to date.
The unemployed: $567 billion
A total of $567 billion in unemployment benefits have been paid out through three federal pandemic-related programs that enhanced payments, expanded eligibility and increased the duration of payments.
They were authorized by Congress in March 2020 and have been renewed twice since.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the jobless received a federal boost of $600 a week on top of what they received from the state for four months. Lawmakers renewed the supplement in December after a months-long break, but lowered the amount to $300 a week. All together, the US has spent $375 billion for those extra payments to date.
While the $300-a-week benefit remains in place until early September, 25 GOP-led states — including Florida, Texas, South Carolina and Iowa — will stop taking the federal money and end the program early in an effort to encourage people to go back to work.
A second federal measure, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, has cost $110 billion so far. It makes freelancers, gig workers, independent contractors and certain people affected by the pandemic eligible for unemployment benefits.
The federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program increases the duration of payments for those in the traditional state unemployment system. It has cost nearly $61 billion so far.
Both of those programs expire in early September, though 21 Republican states have announced they will terminate their participation in June or July.
Health care spending: $331 billion
Congress has poured money into the nation’s health care system since the pandemic began last year, funding the development of testing, treatment and vaccines, supporting hospitals and spending more on Medicaid.
The largest chunk of funds is making its way to hospitals and health care providers, including doctors, dentists and nursing homes, to help them deal with increased coronavirus-related expenses and with lost revenue due to the cancellation or postponement of elective procedures and visits. Some $154 billion of the $178 billion Congress allocated to the Provider Relief Fund has been committed so far.
The federal government has also committed to about $90 billion in funding for the development and procurement of Covid-19 treatments, vaccines and diagnostic tests.
And it has committed nearly $34 billion for additional Medicaid funds for states, which are required to keep people enrolled in the public health insurance program and maintain eligibility and benefits during the pandemic, adding to their expenses. The federal government covers most of states’ Medicaid costs.
Not all of this federal funding has been disbursed to recipients yet, however.
State, city and local aid: $254 billion
Congress has sent state and local governments two rounds of funding to help them deal with coronavirus-related expenses. Some of the money can also be used to address revenue losses, prevent additional layoffs of teachers, emergency workers and other public-sector employees and support families, small businesses and others affected by the pandemic.
Nearly all of the $150 billion contained in the CARES Act from March 2020 has been delivered to state and local governments, with just $1 billion remaining. The Treasury Department distributed the first tranche of money from the American Rescue Plan — $105 billion — earlier this month. Another $245 billion of those funds remains to be disbursed.
The pandemic, however, has had a very uneven impact on the finances of state and local governments. Some are seeing big revenue holes and others enjoying surpluses.
State and local governments are also set to receive several hundreds of billions of dollars in other federal assistance, primarily for education, Medicaid, transit, infrastructure and election security. Some $278 billion of that additional aid has been committed, though not all has been disbursed yet.
K-12 schools and colleges: $231 billion
States have received $159 billion to send to K-12 public and private schools. Districts were allowed to use the money to help reopen buildings for in-person instruction. Districts spent a big portion of the funds on PPE, cleaning supplies, technology and learning management systems that helped students learn from home, salaries and wages.
Lawmakers have required that some of the funds approved in the latest relief package be used to address learning loss during the pandemic by offering summer school or extending the school day.
That package passed in March amounts to about $2,600 per pupil and nearly doubles the amount sent to K-12 schools from the previous two relief packages. But not every school receives the same amount. The law directs the states to disburse the money like it does Title I funding, which means more money goes to districts with a higher percentage of low-income families.
Another $73 billion has gone to colleges and universities. They are allowed to use the funds to defray costs related to the pandemic, like lost revenue or new technology, but must use half of what they receive to award emergency financial aid grants to students in need.
Airline industry: $73 billion
The government created grant and loan programs to aid the airlines when travel plummeted at the beginning of the pandemic. Nearly $52 billion has gone to airlines in the form of grants and loans to help them retain and pay their workers. Another $21 billion was lent to airlines on the condition that they didn’t issue pay cuts, wouldn’t furlough more than 10% of employees until September 2020, and restrict stock buybacks and dividend payments.
Struggling renters and homeowners: $58 billion
Nearly $47 billion in federal money is making its way from states, cities and counties into the hands of renters that are behind on their payments. While federal and local eviction moratoriums have helped keep people in their homes during the pandemic, back rent continued to pile up. About 7 million Americans were behind on their rent as of April, according to the Biden administration. Tenants must meet an income requirement, show they’ve lost income during the pandemic and demonstrate a risk of homelessness in order to qualify for the money.
Another $742 million has gone out to states and territories to help them aid homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments, utilities and property taxes. Another $9 billion has been authorized by Congress.
Cities and counties have already received $5 billion to aid people at risk of experiencing homelessness and those fleeing domestic violence. There’s flexibility on how to use the funds, but some could be spent on buying hotels, motels and unused apartment buildings to convert into affordable housing. The money can be used until 2030.
Another $5 billion is available to those at risk of homelessness through the emergency housing voucher program. An estimated 70,000 vouchers will become available that can be used by qualifying families to pay rent and remain in their homes.
Child care: $56 billion
The pandemic had a devastating impact on child care providers, faced with increased costs and a decline in enrollment. But many parents need them to be open so that they can return to work.
About $56 billion in grant money is making its way to child care providers so that they continue operating. They can spend the money on a variety of uses including cleaning products, staff wages, rent and mortgage payments, utility bills, and providing financial assistance to families.
Nutrition assistance: $52 billion
The pandemic has caused a spike in hunger, prompting the federal government to pour money into nutrition assistance.
More than $44 billion has been committed to boosted food stamp benefits. The congressional rescue plans have increased families’ payments to the maximum allotment for their household size and boosted the monthly benefit by 15%. The Biden administration also issued a guidance in April that will provide a bump up for the estimated 25 million low-income Americans who did not get an increase last year because they were already at the top benefit for their family size.
The 15% increase is set to expire at the end of September.
Congress also created a Pandemic-EBT program in March 2020 to provide families with funds to replace the free or reduced-price meals their children would have received in school. That program has been extended through the duration of the pandemic, though not all states have been approved or have started distributing money for the 2020-2021 school year. Just over $7 billion has been spent on child nutrition assistance programs.
Also, some $605 million has been committed to purchasing and distributing food to food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program, known as TEFAP. Congress allocated a total of $850 million in funding in relief packages in March 2020.
Not all of the funding for nutrition aid has been distributed yet.
This story has been updated to reflect the current number of states dropping pandemic unemployment benefits early.