How much money has the airline industry received in government grants and loans since the COVID-19 pandemic sent the economy into a tailspin? What about higher education institutions or small businesses? Thanks to a new tool from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), a nonpartisan nonprofit committed to educating the public on fiscal policy issues, quick and accessible answers to these questions are now at the fingertips of the public, the media, and policymakers.

The COVID Money Tracker draws on government spending data to keep track of the trillions of dollars of federal spending, tax cuts, loans, grants, and subsidies authorized and disbursed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis. It follows every dollar authorized and spent by Congress, the Federal Reserve, and the Administration over the past five months. This includes not just spending programs, but also tax breaks, loans, loan guarantees, and deferrals of various costs. 

The data can be presented through a sunburst visualization or interactive table and filtered by legislation, recipient type, recipient industry, and disbursement type. For instance, those curious about the health industry would find that it has been allocated about $260 billion. Alternatively, someone wanting to see the full expenditures and fiscal impact of the CARES Act could see that it has allowed $2.8 trillion, about a third of which is made up by loan programs. 

Advanced filters allow interested users to go even more in-depth with the data, all the way down to specific firms, individual states, date range, and amount range. Spending can also be broken down by funds allowed, committed/disbursed, and deficit impact. 

“We know that given the current crisis a lot of money needed to be spent very quickly,” CRFB senior vice president Marc Goldwein said during a webinar last week announcing the rollout of the COVID Money Tracker. “And that money needed to be allocated in ways that, frankly, weren’t the ways one would have designed them if we had more time. We know that this was such an emergency that we had to put the money out really fast. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be accountability” 

“In fact,” he added, “it’s even more important that we follow the money and make sure it’s doing what is intended — or that we know when it isn’t and know where it’s going.” 

All totalled up, the CRFB estimates that the government has so far committed $587 billion in support of COVID relief through administrative actions, $3.8 trillion through legislative actions, and $7.0 trillion through Federal Reserve actions. Their tool finds that about $414 billion (70 percent) of administrative support has been committed or disbursed, along with $2.2 trillion (almost 60 percent) of legislative support and $2.2 trillion (over 30 percent) of Federal Reserve support.

The total net deficit impact of these expenditures? An estimated ten-year increase of $2.6 trillion.

While that may sound like a staggering figure, Goldwein was careful to point out that sound fiscal policy allows for significant deficit spending during crises, and the current pandemic certainly counts as one.

“We are in the deepest economic crisis and public health crisis in anyone’s lifetime, and this is exactly the moment when deficit spending makes sense,” Goldwein said. “The reason that groups like ours advocate for low borrowing, for deficit reduction in good times, is so we have the capacity to borrow when we need, either when the economy is in deep recession, or when we have an emergency that we want to spread the cost of over time. Right now we’re facing both.” 

He cautioned, however, that this borrowing is neither free nor costless. Even if no further COVID relief legislation is authorized, the federal government is on pace to see deficits of $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion every year for the next decade. 

“While today’s borrowing is absolutely reasonable for the current crisis,” Goldwein said, “it paints a very clear picture of our long-term fiscal trajectory and our need to get our debt under control before it’s too late.”

The tool will be updated with the latest data every Monday for the foreseeable future. So far CRFB is considering all legislation to be related to the pandemic and thus count as COVID relief, however that calculus will change in the months and years to come as COVID money is intermixed with regular appropriations bills.

Read more about the CRFB’s COVID Money Tracker here.


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Image Credit: Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash