In March, Congress authorized trillions of dollars in spending to help address the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic – much of it aimed at getting cash into people’s hands immediately to help them pay their bills and buy groceries.
It called for sending direct payments to most Americans and expanded unemployment benefits, and included emergency grant and loan programs for small business owners as well as tax cuts, loans and other subsidies.
Yet only about half of the economic support authorized by legislation since early March has gone out the door, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a think tank tracking the spending.
Stimulus money was the first out, and it more than made up for many Americans’ loss of income. Total income rose 13% from February to April when accounting for the direct payments and unemployment benefits. But for the most part, the initial wave of aid hasn’t helped bring back jobs, and there’s concern the economic boost will peter out by the end of July, when some benefits expire.
So far, the biggest aid package approved by Congress was the CARES Act, which was passed on March 27 and allowed for about $2.7 trillion in spending. Three other pieces of legislation were passed to address the outbreak, bringing the total amount of already-passed economic support to $3.6 trillion.
Lawmakers are now considering how to boost the economy as states start to reopen. House Democrats have already approved another $3 trillion aid package, but Republicans, who control the Senate, are in no rush to take up the measure. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the next relief bill “won’t look anything like the House Democrats’ bill.”
Here’s how the money has been spent so far:
Money for individuals and small businesses
Nearly $270 billion has been sent directly to individuals through the Economic Impact Payment program. Qualifying individuals can receive up to $1,200 and married couples up to $2,400 – plus an additional $500 per child. Some payments have yet to go out, but 88% of the funds have been disbursed, according to the group’s calculations.
More than $500 billion has been lent out through the Paycheck Protection Program, which gives forgivable loans to small business owners.
But about $150 billion remains available for small businesses. After a mad dash for the loans during the first few weeks, interest faded. US census data shows that most business owners who wanted loans received them. But there’s some confusion about how they’re allowed to spend the money in order to see it forgiven, which may have tempered demand.
There were problems with the earliest distributions. The first round of small business loans appeared to go to some larger and publicly traded companies while mom-and-pop shops were left in the dark. Some dead people were sent stimulus checks, while others waited.
But a majority of the money for these two cornerstone programs went out by the end of May. And the Senate passed changes to the small business relief giving recipients more flexibility while still qualifying for forgiveness.
“The money came out slower than people needed it, but still surprisingly fast,” said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
“By and large, the money that’s supposed to be out the door is out the door,” he added.
States initially struggled to keep up with the unprecedented number of people filing for unemployment benefits, leaving some people waiting weeks or longer before they began getting money. One in four American workers have filed during the pandemic.
Congress added $600 per week for each person collecting unemployment – on top of what states provide – and about $90 billion has been spent so far for that expansion, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The government will keep paying those benefits until July 31, and it has about $86 billion left to do so.
Congress authorized separate spending for unemployment benefits that is meant to last the rest of the year. It added 13 weeks of pay, beyond what states offer. Most of that $50 billion hasn’t been spent yet, since a lot of people haven’t been out of work that long.
Lawmakers also provided about $35 billion so that freelance and gig workers would be eligible during the pandemic. States took a while to stand up application processes for those people. About $20 billion of that money has been spent, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Payroll tax breaks
Congress also created several tax benefits for businesses, like allowing them to deduct more losses and to defer payroll taxes. Those revenue losses won’t be realized until businesses make their quarterly tax payments.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the legislation provides for nearly $650 billion in tax breaks, most of which haven’t been taken advantage of yet. But Goldwein noted they may have incomplete data.
A big chunk of the the money authorized by Congress, about $500 billion, was given to the Federal Reserve so that it could design lending programs for struggling companies – but they haven’t launched yet.
One of the programs, known as the Main Street Lending Program, is expected to roll out this week. It will support banks in making loans to small- and mid-sized businesses that were in sound financial condition before the pandemic. They may be in demand once small businesses use the money they may have received through the Paycheck Protection Program.
Separately, the Fed is expected to use some of those funds to buy corporate debt as well as city and municipal debt, and to make loans to airlines.
It’s taken time for the Fed to come up with the right set of rules for these programs.
It’s possible it will never use the maximum amount of money allowed for these programs, Goldwein said. But announcing that the programs will exists has already helped stabilizeß the market.
Some separate money for large corporations has already gone out the door. Airlines, for example, have received about $23 billion in grants to help limit furloughs and pay cuts.
Hospitals, farmers and students
While the relief packages largely focused on households and businesses, other sectors of the economy also got money, a lot of which is still trickling down.
About $77 billion out of $100 billion has been sent to hospitals. Another $80 billion has been authorized for other health-related spending and spread across several agencies.
State and local governments have received nearly all of the $150 billion authorized for pandemic-related costs.
There’s more money for K-12 schools, which was disbursed through the Department of Education and is still making its way to local districts. Colleges received money to award students emergency grants.
Farmers, who have also been hit hard as the pandemic disrupted their normal supply chains, are also due money. Those payments are coming from the Department of Agriculture, which just launched the application process at the end of May.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that enhanced unemployment benefits will be paid through July 31.