While President Joe Biden proposed $22.5 billion in coronavirus-related spending this week, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey (R) urged clarification of how the government has spent almost $6 trillion in earlier COVID relief.
Toomey joined 35 Senate colleagues in writing to Biden asking for a detailed explication of the disbursements made over the last two years which, the authors noted, amounted to the largest allotment of taxpayer money for one concern in American history.
The senators referenced a February 17 Washington Post story quoting White House COVID-spending coordinator Gene Sperling as observing that “immense fraud … took place at the crush of the pandemic in 2020, particularly in small-business loans and unemployment insurance. …” The piece especially noted that the Small Business Administration “moved at lightning speed” to bestow public dollars on struggling employers without implementing strong safeguards against fraud and other misuses.
Furthermore, the website on pandemic-related expenditures doesn’t thoroughly outline how states, localities, hospitals, schools and other entities have allocated either the $1.9 trillion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds approved in 2021 or the $3.8 trillion allotted two years ago. Toomey and his colleagues indicated they would oppose adding to these sums before the administration resolves uncertainties about what the outlays have bought.
“Since passage of the American Rescue Plan in February, questions are mounting about where exactly the money has gone,” the senators noted. “Before we would consider supporting an additional $30 billion for COVID-19 relief, Congress must receive a full accounting of how the government has already spent the first $6 trillion.”
Specifically, the lawmakers inquired as to the amount of ARPA funds that haven’t yet been disbursed as well as the total revenue that has been spent on coronavirus vaccines and testing. The legislators also asked the executive branch to describe how it has evaluated the effectiveness of the vaccinations and tests. Finally, they asked whether the White House expects to soon provide timely data on the full breadth of COVID-relief spending.
“While we have supported historic, bipartisan measures in the United States Senate to provide unprecedented investments in vaccines, therapeutics, and testing, it is not yet clear why additional funding is needed,” the senators wrote.
In announcing the president’s aim to secure more pandemic spending, his acting Office of Management and Budget director couched the matter in grave terms.
“Without additional resources, we won’t be able to secure the treatments, vaccines, and tests Americans need in coming months and fight future variants,” Shalanda Young, acting Office of Management and Budget director wrote on the White House website. “And critical COVID response efforts — such as free community testing sites and testing, treatment, and vaccination coverage for uninsured individuals —will end this spring. We are therefore urging Congress to promptly provide $22.5 billion to cover immediate needs for tests, treatments and vaccines, investments in research and development of next-generation vaccines, and responding globally [sic], including getting more shots in arms around the world.”
Coronavirus infections have ebbed significantly both worldwide and nationwide in recent weeks. In the U.S., the seven-day moving average of daily positive tests dropped from a peak of nearly 822,000 in mid-January to under 60,000 presently. The seven-day average of new deaths declined from about 2,700 per day in late January to fewer than 1,500 now, with the precipitous decline expected to continue.
In her message requesting more pandemic-related spending, Young also called for $10 billion in aid to Ukraine as the eastern European nation endures invasion by Russia.
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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].