Politics

Surprise! Lawmakers Seeking More Pandemic Spending Ignore Already Available Funds

By Matt Weidinger for RealClearPolicy

Fresh off their holiday break, federal lawmakers are beginning to discuss new pandemic stimulus spending. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said the Biden administration was “preparing to ask Congress for ‘substantial’ funding to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic domestically and abroad.”

Hoyer expected the new funding would focus on “testing, vaccines” and “to make sure schools have resources to keep themselves safe.”

If all that sounds familiar, it should, as lawmakers previously allocated hundreds of billions of dollars to these same purposes. Investigators last fall started asking where did all the pandemic money go? Fair question.

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Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Richard Burr (R-NC) just asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona for a breakdown of $266 billion in pandemic education funds, highlighting that $191 billion remained unspent. The same goes for COVID testing.

As a recent oped noted, “the country has run short of COVID tests even though some $79 billion – more than the entire GDP of Kenya – was allocated to developing and distributing such tests. Tests, it must be said, that candidate Joe Biden put at the heart of his promise to ‘shut down the virus’ in 2020.”

But these already provided funds are not the only things politicians with big new spending plans have forgotten about in recent months. For instance, Democrats have argued for months that their trillion-dollar Build Back Better plan was needed to prevent the expiration of temporarily enhanced child tax credit payments to over 30 million households.

Some even suggested that, without that legislation, the entire child tax credit program would end. But neither characterization is correct, as tens of millions of families are poised to collect the largest payments yet in the coming months under the current temporary policy –without further legislation.

The March 2021 American Rescue Plan increased the maximum benefit from $2,000 to $3,000 for older children and $3,600 for younger ones, expanded eligibility by providing full payments to parents who don’t work or owe federal income taxes, and started to deliver payments monthly.

The monthly payments ended in December, but that still leaves a coming surge in benefits, since half of the temporarily enlarged benefit will be paid out when families file their 2021 federal income tax. As a result, millions of parents are about to receive as much as $1,800 per child in a single payment.

But you would never know that by recent headlines suggesting that, if the monthly payments ended, the entire program would shut down. As a December CNBC headline stated flatly: “Child Tax Credit to end unless Build Back Better is passed.” That completely ignores the second half of the expansion about to be paid out to tens of millions of families.

How much will be paid out? Even without counting the $93 billion already paid, the estimated $130 billion in coming payouts will exceed prior annual records. And millions more recipients than ever before will qualify for full benefits – because Democrats’ temporary policy ended the longstanding work requirement and work incentive for collecting these expanded benefits.

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Under prior law, non-working parents would have received no checks, and part-time workers qualified for only partial benefits.

These continued payouts to parents who don’t owe federal income taxes are so great they have changed the nature of the program. The advent of full payments in 2021 to non-working parents revived work-free welfare as we knew it and converted the IRS into America’s leading welfare-paying agency.

Over 80 percent of the current expansion provides higher benefit payments as opposed to tax relief, contradicting Democrat claims their policy reflects “tax cuts for families.”

But just like those now ignoring unspent pandemic education or health funds, those wrongly suggesting the child tax credit program was about to end chose to ignore all that. Instead, these benefits will surge to record highs in the months ahead — even without further legislation.

And that will bolster this town’s well-deserved reputation of being long on demands for more spending, and short on memory and shame.

Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.

Matt Weidinger is a Rowe Fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

RealClearWire

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