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That great sloshing sound you hear is the tens of billions of dollars of unspent COVID-19 relief funds slopping around federal, state and local government coffers. But the Biden administration wants to appropriate billions more and is resorting to scare tactics to get it. More COVID money has been diverted to illegal migrant relief.
The federal government has appropriated roughly $4.8 trillion in six COVID-relief laws, the most recent being President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March 2021. In January, the Government Accountability Office reported that only 87% of the total was obligated — legally committing the US government to pay — and only 76% was spent. Contrary to what most Americans probably believe, little of the total was allocated for COVID vaccines, treatments and testing. Only 11% ($484 billion) was routed to the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency most directly involved with responding to public-health emergencies. By the end of November, HHS had only obligated 80% and spent 47% of its funds.
Amazingly, little of the HHS funding was directed to prevention or treatment and most remains unspent. Of the $41 billion allocated for vaccine research and development, procurement and distribution, less than a third had been spent. Of the $17 billion earmarked for drug and therapeutics research, development and procurement, less than 30% had been expended. And only slightly more than a quarter of the $58 billion allotted to procure and distribute tests and setting up community-based testing programs had been spent. That didn’t stop the administration from seeking another $22.5 billion in March to pay for COVID treatments, tests, vaccines and research. Congressional negotiators cut the amount to $15.6 billion. But when Republicans objected to spending new money on the coronavirus response without first using unspent funding from existing aid programs, including money for state governments, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled it from the $1.5 trillion annual spending bill.
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