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Biden faces limits of $1.9T COVID aid as some states resist



Biden faces limits of $1.9T COVID aid as some states resist

President Biden entered the White House promising to stop the twin health and economic crises caused by COVID-19, but $1.9 trillion and countless initiatives later, he’s confronting the limits of what Washington can achieve when some state and local governments are unwilling or unable to step up.

Six months after Congress passed the massive rescue plan, administration records show that more than $550 billion has yet to be disbursed. The sum could help provide a key economic backstop as the coronavirus’s delta variant continues to pose a threat. But in some cases, it’s also led to frustration, as aid for renters, testing and vaccines goes unused despite mass outreach campaigns.

Republican critics say the unspent money shows that Biden’s relief package was too big and inflationary; the administration says the unspent funds reflect the extent of planning in case the recovery from the pandemic hits more snags with virus mutations and unexpected economic disruptions. By law, about $105 billion of the state and local aid and more than half of the expanded child tax credits cannot be paid out yet.

“There are some things designed to address immediate hardship and others that are designed to allow for a multi-year policy response — they’re not really bugs, they’re features,” Gene Sperling, who is overseeing the rescue plan for Biden, said. “The fact that a solid portion of these funds can be used over a few year period is a good-news story for ensuring a durable recovery.”

But some of the backlog stems from bottlenecks — or outright blockages — at the state or local level, beyond the influence of Washington. The extent of the challenge was apparent when Biden recently announced new vaccine requirements for federal workers and employers with 100 or more workers and emphasized the need for testing and keeping schools open.

“We’re facing a lot of pushback, especially from some of the Republican governors,” Biden said Thursday. “The governors of Florida and Texas — they’re doing everything they can to undermine the lifesaving requirements that I’ve proposed.”

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