Funds from the $1.9 trillion emergency COVID aid package that was signed into law by President Joe Biden last March still remain unspent with some of the money being used to fund projects that are completely unrelated to the virus.
Among those items that have nothing to do with the stated purpose of the funds are an armored SWAT team vehicle in Pittsburgh, pop-ups devoted to racial healing in Minneapolis, millions for the expansion of “restorative justice” programs in New York City schools, vape detectors in Montgomery, Alabama schools and upgrading neighborhood greenways in Seattle.
Those are just a few examples from a Brookings Institution tracker of funding for large cities and counties.
While such projects are technically permitted, they are inconsistent with the stated purpose of the American Rescue Plan Act which was sold to American taxpayers specifically as a necessary aid to boost the economy coming out of the pandemic.
President Biden signs the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. The American Rescue Plan is now law. pic.twitter.com/VPp2VfkHeq
— The Recount (@therecount) March 11, 2021
“For over a year, the American people were told they were on their own. We’ve seen how hard that has been on so many Americans,” Biden said during a White House appearance to celebrate the Senate’s passage of the bill. “Everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation and put us in a better position to prevail, starting with beating this virus and vaccinating the country.”
“It’s going to require fastidious oversight to make sure there’s no waste or fraud, and the law does what it’s designed to do. And I mean it: We have to get this right,” Biden said at a signing ceremony days later, promising that the use of the taxpayer money would be subjected to careful oversight.
In addition to the non-COVID expenditures, much of the money hasn’t even been spent yet despite the insistence by Biden and his fellow Democrats that time was of the essence to cram the bill through Congress.
“Just 12% of the money earmarked for elementary and secondary schools has been spent so far, according to federal statistics. And according to Treasury Department figures, as of the end of March 2022 only about $70 billion of the $350 billion allocated for state and local governments had been spent. Just over $100 billion of that money was contractually committed to be spent,” according to Fox News.
“A Treasury spokesperson told Fox News Digital that 67% of the money available to state and local governments through March was budgeted — and likely more, due to smaller jurisdictions not reporting. The total funding available through that point was just under $225 billion. That means likely about half of the overall $350 billion had been budgeted for future use by late March,” the outlet reported.
“Washington allocated $350 billion to state and local governments to close budget deficits that did not even exist,” Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute told Fox News Digital. “These states are totally awash in more money than they know what to do with, so it’s no surprise they haven’t allocated yet – they’re going to be sitting on this money for years.”
“Of course, the standards are going to fall and they’re going to look for any excuse to spend the money, no matter how wasteful,” he said.
According to the Brookings Institution tracker, there is nearly $4.9 million budgeted by New York City for a “No Stopping New York” ad campaign as well as the $12,308,279 budgeted by New York City Public Schools for the expansion of “restorative justice,” the highly controversial educational discipline practices “to all middle and high schools citywide.”
More than $3 million allocated by Minneapolis for a “Green Cost Share Program… focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy in, BIOPOC communities, and low income housing,” as well as the $300,000 to, “Promote healing and positive activation in the Black community to build and implement a larger vision of an equitable and resilient recovery from COVID-19 and racial trauma. These pop-up style events will help address the need for healing and social cohesion,” the Brookings tracker shows.
There is also the $2.5 million to upgrade “over 25 miles of Neighborhood Greenways,” budgeted by Seattle.
“That’s the kind of thing that we should be exactly 0% surprised by,” R Street Institute senior fellow Jonathan Bydlak said according to Fox News. “Any time you have that much money flowing out of Washington, frankly without any real strings or oversight… you’re going to get these cases.”
“They’re using it for basic fiscal recovery and plugging the budget gaps that opened up as a result of the pandemic,” Brookings Metro interim vice president and director Alan Berube told Fox News Digital. “They’re using it for public health. They’re using it for economic aid to impacted households and communities. And they’re using it for some of the basic infrastructure that was authorized under the act.”
“You could look through any list of thousands and tens of thousands of local expenditures under a highly flexible program and find a few eyebrow-raising things,” he added. “I think to do so would miss the forest for the trees.”
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