Fact check: Breaking down spending in the COVID-19 relief bill
The claim: ‘9% of the 1.9 TRILLION dollar package is going to the American people.’
The American Rescue Plan — the signature initiative thus far in President Joe Biden’s tenure — has passed the U.S. House, sparking renewed debate over what exactly is in the $1.9 trillion package.
Democrats are presenting the mammoth bill as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 500,000 lives and disrupted business, schooling and personal lives on every conceivable level.
Republicans say it’s a pork-stuffed wish list that’s being opportunistically rammed through a Democratic-controlled Congress.
That has led to all manner of claims on social media, including the following post from Feb. 27: “9% of the 1.9 TRILLION dollar package is going to the American people,” it said, on a background of poop emojis. “Nine percent.”
The poster who made the claim did not provide any evidence of the claim in an exchange of messages with USA TODAY. Nearly identical posts made the same claim at leastfour othertimes between Feb. 26 and March 1.
There has been widespread criticism of the mammoth bill centered around a 9% figure. But this isn’t it.
Let’s take a closer look.
Fact check:Israel launching ‘Green Pass’ for COVID-19 vaccinated
Not even close to right
The sweeping COVID-19 relief bill has been criticized by Republicans for an array of earmarks that stray far from the stated purpose of the bill.
PolitiFact rated Mostly True a claim from conservative Stand for America that the bill contains unrelated projects. Examples cited in that fact check included a $1.5 million bridge connecting New York and Canada, a $100 million underground rail project in Silicon Valley, $480 million for Native American language preservation and maintenance and $50 million in environmental justice grants. The bill would also raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and change pension funding rules.
All told, about 15% of the proposal goes to “long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis,” said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization formed to educate the public on federal budget issues.
But that’s a far cry from the claim here about little money going to Americans.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget analysis identified $10 billion from the bill as going to foreign affairs. That’s about one-half of 1% of the total.
The bungled 9% figure may have been a misunderstanding of the funds tied to direct COVID-19 intervention.
Around 8.5% of the $1.9 trillion, at most, goes to direct containment measures such as vaccines and testing. The total is somewhere between $100 billion and $160 billion, depending on whether one includes items like $10 billion in medical supplies and $24 billion in child care for essential workers, as the White House does in arriving at the larger figure.
Fact check:Coca-Cola CEO did not insult customers who were launching boycot
What’s in the bill
That brings us to the question of what’s actually in the bill.
Republicans have raised this issue throughout the discussion of Biden’s proposal, in some cases exaggerating the nature of the spending that’s not tied directly to COVID-19 containment.
A long list of initiatives is clearly related to the pandemic, however.
About 22% of the total bill comes from the $422 billion set aside for $1,400-per-person stimulus checks. Another 13% ($246 billion) is for extending additional unemployment funding of $400 per week.
A combined 12% is going to the following:
- Subsidized COBRA for laid-off workers.
- Affordable Care Act subsidies for the next two years.
- Expanded nutrition assistance to replace school lunch programs during the pandemic.
- Funding for testing and contact tracing.
- Disaster Relief Fund increases and covering COVID-related funeral expenses.
- Grants to airlines and contractors to freeze layoffs through September.
- Defense Production Act funding for medical supplies.
- Grants for restaurants and bars that have lost revenue in the pandemic.
- Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance grants of up to $10,000 per business.
Another $519 billion — 27% of the total — is going to state and local governments and schools, much of which will make up losses related to the pandemic and spur school reopening. Republicans note much of the school funding, however, won’t be spent immediately.
If the government and school aid is included in this category, about 85% of the American Rescue Plan is pandemic-related, according to a breakdown by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
The analysis here examines the House version of the plan, which still must pass the Senate before it could head to Biden’s desk to be signed into law. The Senate could make changes — notably it is expected to drop efforts to increase the minimum wage — which would bounce it back to the House.
Get these in your inbox: We’re fact checking the news and sending it to your inbox. Sign up here to start receiving our newsletter.
Our ruling: False
We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by our research. There’s room for debate over exactly how much of the $1.9 trillion is related to the pandemic. Surely not all of it. But this claim badly bungles a widely circulating 9% stat.
More than 99% of the American Rescue Plan is going to Americans, though some of that falls in the category of political “pork.” An analysis by a nonpartisan group found about 85% of the bill is related to the pandemic.
The 9% figure is actually what is going to fund direct disease containment measures such as vaccines, testing and tracing, and other public health initiatives.
Our fact-check sources
- Facebook post, Feb. 27
- PolitiFact, Feb. 26, “Fact-checking whether Democrats’ ‘wish list’ is in $1.9 trillion relief bill”
- PolitiFact, Feb. 16, “How much goes to COVID-19 vaccines in the stimulus bill?”
- The Washington Post, Feb. 27, “What’s in the House’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan”
- Newsweek, Feb. 18, “Fact Check: Is Only 9% of Joe Biden’s COVID Stimulus Plan Going to Public Health?”
- The White House, Jan. 20, “President Biden Announces American Rescue Plan”
- Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Feb. 18, “What’s in the $1.9 Trillion House COVID Relief Bill?”
- Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Feb. 24, “Four Key Elements of the American Rescue Plan”
- Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Feb. 17, “COVID Relief Bill Losing Focus as Details Emerge”
Contact Eric Litke at (414) 225-5061 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ericlitke.
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.
Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.