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COVID relief bill: Debunking the misinformation about the plan

A breakdown of how much money Americans will really get.

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Volunteers prepare food at a food distribution center in the South Bronx, which had one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in New York City. It's also home to an estimated 60% of New York City's very low income residents.

Volunteers prepare food at a food distribution center in the South Bronx, which had one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in New York City. It's also home to an estimated 60% of New York City's very low income residents. Among other things, the COVID relief bill puts $4 billion toward food for the needy.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Thursday signed his American Rescue Plan, which includes a third round of stimulus checks, an increase to the child tax credit and extended unemployment benefits. With a price tag of $1.9 trillion, it's just shy of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that was passed last March when the coronavirus pandemic triggered shutdowns across the US. 

Polls show people overwhelmingly support Biden's plan, but there's already a wealth of misinformation on social media declaring that this bill is a "heist" and won't help Americans. Those claims are false. 

So let's clear up the confusion and inaccurate information about the COVID relief bill

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I hear only 9% of the $1.9 trillion bill is going to Americans. How much are we really getting from Biden's plan? 

Three of the priciest policies in the American Rescue Plan go directly to Americans, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. They are:

These provisions provide funds that go directly to qualified Americans and account for 43% of the $1.9 trillion plan.  

There are also other provisions in the bill that will go to those in need, such as:

  • Emergency rental assistance ($30 billion).
  • Mortgage payment assistance ($10 billion).
  • An extension of paid sick leave and the employee retention credit ($14 billion).
  • Subsidized COBRA coverage for laid-off workers ($14 billion).
  • The purchasing and distribution of food for needy individuals ($4 billion).
  • Extended SNAP benefits ($1.15 billion). 
  • The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program ($4.5 billion).

These benefits total approximately another $78 billion going to those in need. Combined, they make up $888.65 billion or 47% of the $1.9 trillion. 

COVID Bill provisions

Provision Cost
Third stimulus check $422 billion
Enhanced unemployment $246 billion
Extending child care tax credit $143 billion
Emergency rental assistance $30 billion
Mortgage payment assistance $10 billion
Extend paid sick leave $14 billion
Subsidize COBRA coverage $14 billion
Food for needy individuals $4 billion
Extend SNAP benefits $1.15 billion
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program $4.5 billion
Total $888.65 billion

I keep hearing 90% of the bill has nothing to do with COVID. What's the deal?

When Biden signed the bill Thursday, he said it'll give "people in this nation, working people, middle-class folks, people who built the country, a fighting chance." The plan focuses on economic relief for those affected by the pandemic, but it also provides funding for efforts to combat the virus itself. Both are important to help with the recovery of the economy.

"The bill provides funding for key public health support and for important programs, like enhanced unemployment insurance, to help people make ends meet as we head into an economic recovery," said Erica York, an economist at the Tax Foundation. "Lawmakers were trying to avoid doing too little, and on that, I think they have certainly succeeded and many households will see a significant income boost in 2021."

However, some officials criticize the bill by questioning everything other than money that goes directly into fighting the virus. 

The bill has $110 billion going toward fighting the pandemic, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. This includes money to distribute vaccines, conduct coronavirus testing, buy protective equipment and fund other assistance for tackling the virus. 

The rest of the $1.9 trillion, however, doesn't go to waste. The CRFB estimates that 15% of the plan, or $300 billion, goes to "long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis."

What about the $1 trillion of COVID relief that hasn't been spent yet? 

During the debates in both the House and Senate, a common Republican complaint about the bill was the claim that there's $1 trillion left over from the previous relief package passed during the Trump administration. 

According to the COVID Money Tracker, there's approximately $1 trillion in legislative actions still unspent. That money, however, is not just sitting in a bank account without any designation. 

"Just because there's money unspent doesn't mean there aren't still needs," Marc Goldwein, senior vice president and senior policy director for the CRFB, told Politico on Feb. 27. 

The funds yet to be spent were set aside for programs at a later time, according to the previous relief bills. Some of the money will go to unemployment, Medicaid, the Payment Protection Program and other aid, which makes it difficult to redistribute funds to other programs.