Congress has authorized roughly $3 trillion in coronavirus relief in four separate measures over the last two months. These bills attempt to protect the American economy from long-term harm caused by stay-at-home orders and respond to the overall impact of the virus.
The House is preparing to vote on a Democrats-only bill to spend another $3 trillion. Republicans have rejected the proposal, known as the HEROES Act, and are calling for a pause on new aid. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says the latest legislation is her starting point for any new negotiations.
In several cases, Congress voted on the relief spending with little time to review the proposals and without an official cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. But now CBO has released estimates showing that the costs of some programs are expected to outpace early projections — driving up the total cost of the bills.
These long-term expenses will be added on top of recent projections from the CBO that the U.S. deficit would be more than $3.7 trillion in 2020.
NPR reviewed data and estimates reported by the CBO to break down how Congress allocated money to respond to the pandemic. Those estimates, known as scores, detail how much the agency expects programs will cost and how those measures will impact the debt, deficit and government revenue.
In some cases, Congress approved a fixed amount of money for a program, like the Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses.
In other cases, like the expanded unemployment insurance and tax credits for emergency paid family and sick leave, Congress approved the credits and their values but did not put a cap on the expenditures. When that happens, the CBO estimates the number of people and companies that may take advantage of the program. The CBO often provides those estimates in two-year figures, in part because it may take time for businesses and individuals to file claims.
Here’s how the coronavirus relief money breaks down.
The bulk of the support for individuals was approved in the second and third packages, known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stability Act, also known as CARES.
The biggest expenditures on individuals have been on cash relief payments, expansions to unemployment assistance, emergency family and medical leave.
Cash relief payments: $293 billion (estimated)
Many people have already started to receive direct deposits totaling as much as $1,200 under the program known as recovery rebates. Individuals earning less than $75,000 can expect a one-time cash payment of $1,200. Married couples would each receive a check and families would get $500 per child. That means a family of four earning less than $150,000 can expect $3,400.
The checks start to phase down after that and disappear completely for people making more than $99,000 and couples making more than $198,000.
The cash payments are based on most recent tax filings. People who receive Social Security payments, people experiencing homelessness and others who don’t typically need to file tax return are still eligible, too.
Expanded unemployment insurance: $268 billion (estimated).
The third piece of legislation included temporary changes to federal unemployment benefits, including a supplemental benefit for all workers and new protections for gig workers.
Under the legislation, states will still pay base unemployment to people who qualify. That amount varies state by state, as does the amount of time people are allowed to claim it. Congress added $600 per week from the federal government on top of whatever base amount a worker receives from the state. That boosted payment will last through the end of July.
For example, if an out-of-work person is receiving the national average of about $340 per week, under the new federal program their take-home pay will be $940.
The legislation also adds 13 weeks of unemployment insurance. People nearing the maximum number of weeks allowed by their state would get an extension. New filers would also be allowed to collect the benefits for the longer period.
The estimated cost also includes a new, temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program through the end of this year to help people who lose work as a direct result of the public health emergency.
The Congressional Budget Office made their predictions based on a model projecting an unemployment rate reaching 14% in the second quarter of this year and remaining at 10% at the end of 2021.
Administration officials have admitted in recent weeks that the rate could continue rise in the immediate term before recovering. The scorekeepers specifically noted that this is just a projection and the numbers could change, which would in turn change the overall cost of the changes to unemployment insurance.
Emergency family and medical leave: $105 billion (estimated).
The second bill congress approved included new tax credits for businesses to support emergency family and medical leave.
Under the bill, certain employers are required to give up to 80 hours of fully paid sick leave if the employee is unable to work because they are in quarantine and/or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical care. Those employers would also have to approve up to 80 hours of partially paid leave for people caring for someone under the same conditions or to care for a child under 18 whose regular child care facility or school is closed.
The Congressional Budget Office projects that offering employers fully refundable credits against payroll taxes to compensate employees for the leave will cost the government about $105 billion. This cost is unlike a program where the federal government pays for the benefit directly. Instead, the cost is based on the expectation that the Treasury Department will lose revenues as a result of the policies.
Cost reductions for individuals on federal health insurance programs: $8.6 billion (estimated two-year cost)
The second coronavirus relief bill eliminates any cost-sharing for people seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19 under Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP. This was intended to make it easier for low-income people to get tested.
The total amount available to big businesses is well over $500 billion. The CARES Act includes a section described as Economic Stabilization and Assistance to Severely Distressed Sectors of the U.S. Economy. That is the long way of describing aid for big businesses. This includes emergency lending from the federal reserve, credit assistance to airlines and pandemic relief for airline workers.
Extra lending authority for the Federal Reserve: $454 billion (this money is expected to be fully recouped with fees and repayments)
This portion of the bill has a big price tag up front, but the CBO estimates that the repayment, fees and other economic activity will make up for the initial spending. They do not consider it a true cost to the federal budget or the deficit. The chart includes the money because it is an approved expenditure, but it is considered in a separate category than the remaining spending. The Federal Reserve has also taken separate actions that don’t involve Congress.
Airlines: $58 billion
This money is allocated to help airlines stay open. One portion of that money is set aside to help cover employee wages, salaries and benefits divided up as up to $25 billion for passenger air carriers, up to $4 billion for cargo air carriers, and up to $3 billion for airline contractors.
There is more than $800 billion in small business aid spread across the four bills that have passed so far. The biggest portion of that sum is dedicated to the forgivable loans in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The first round of PPP — $349 billion — ran out in less than two weeks. Congress approved another $321 billion that is still being spent.
Small businesses also have access to $21 billion in disaster grants plus some additional loan subsidies. There’s also a tax credit for keeping employees on payroll that is estimated to cost about $52 billion.
Some elements of the CARES act support a wide range of businesses without the size limitations included in the PPP. The legislation establishes a fully refundable tax credit for businesses of all sizes that are closed or distressed to help them keep workers on the payroll. The credit is expected to cost about $52 billion.
The goal is to help businesses re-hire employees that have already been laid off or furloughed. The credit covers to 50% of payroll on the first $10,000 of compensation, including health benefits, for each employee.
For employers with more than 100 full-time employees, the credit is for wages paid to employees when they are not providing services because of the coronavirus. Eligible employers with 100 or fewer full-time employees could use the deduction even if they aren’t closed.
Other broader business supports include a delay in when payroll taxes are due, which the CBO estimates will cost $352 billion up front but will be largely repaid years in the future. There are also tax changes increasing the cap on net operating losses and changing the rules for interest deductibility.
All four bills include money to help support hospitals and public health systems. The most expensive items include funding for research and development, direct aid to hospitals and care centers, and money to offset more of the cost of treating Medicare patients.
The first bill focused primarily on public health and global health. It was passed in the weeks before it was clear how deeply the coronavirus would affect the U.S. It included $3.1 billion for vaccine and treatment research, $3.2 billion for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and $1.2 billion for the State Department to carry out global health programs.
The CARES Act provided $1.32 billion for community health centers that provide health care for roughly 28 million people.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention got another $4.3 billion from CARES and the Strategic National Stockpile received $16 billion.
Congress has set aside roughly $28 billion to help pay for testing and access to testing. Other spending areas, including funding for the CDC, Food and Drug Administration, and National Institutes of Health have been used to boost testing capacity and speed up the process of approvals.
States and local governments have access to funds in a number of programs, particularly public health funding and money for publicly run hospitals and community health centers.
The Families First Coronavirus Response bill included $1 billion for state and local administrative costs, and CARES included $150 billion in direct aid to states for the coronavirus response.
There is long list of miscellaneous programs including those that shore up social safety net programs but do not pay money directly to individuals. In many cases, the funding helps support existing federal programs that have been stretched during the coronavirus response.
Child nutrition: There is $8.8 billion in the CARES Act to give schools more flexibility to provide meals for students.
Food stamps: CARES also included $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. The money will help cover the expected cost of new applications to the program as a result of the coronavirus. That bill also included $450 million more for food banks and other community food distribution programs.
Government administration: CARES included $10 billion in lending for the Postal Service, the Families First Coronavirus bill gave the IRS $15 million to implement programs – the filing date was extended to July 15.