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Dec 30, 2020
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TOPLINE Over the course of five relief bills, including the CARES Act and the new $900 billion package signed by President Trump on Sunday, the federal government has now authorized some $3.5 trillion in new legislative spending to shore up the economy during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—that shakes out to an average of more than $10,000 per person for each of the 330 million people in the United States. Here’s how it all breaks down.

The CARES Act (worth about $2.1 trillion, according to the federal government’s Data Lab) was the biggest stimulus package in American history and accounts for about 60% of that $3.5 trillion total.

The rest comes from the new $900 billion package, two smaller bills that passed before the CARES Act, and a $484 billion bill that re-upped the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses after it exhausted its first round of CARES Act funding.

Some $1.2 trillion of that legislative spending was earmarked for individuals—about $944 billion in the first four bills for direct payments (which went to 160 million people in the first round), expanded federal unemployment benefits, tax changes and other income support programs, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, plus another $286 billion for stimulus checks and unemployment benefits in the newest bill.

Of course, stimulus allocations went far beyond individual checking accounts, from $1.7 trillion set aside for small businesses aid over the course of five bills to tens of billions of dollars for vaccine development and distribution to a $175 billion fund for hospitals and healthcare providers to help them respond to the crisis.

That’s not to mention a host of other provisions in the five rescue bills, from money for nutrition programs to student loan relief to tax credits and aid for state and local governments, that were designed to keep the economy humming.

The outcome of a push by President Trump and Congressional Democrats to bump the second round of direct stimulus payments up from $600 to $2,000. The Democratic-led House on Monday passed a bill that would increase the size of the payments, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday blocked a vote on the matter in the Senate. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said he will filibuster a separate Senate vote on an annual defense spending bill on Wednesday if McConnell does not bring the direct payment bill to the floor. If the measure eventually succeeds in the Senate (and it’s too soon to tell if it will), it will cost Congress another $463.8 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

$7.3 trillion. That’s how much all the emergency actions taken by the Federal Reserve—completely separate from the $3.5 trillion in spending authorized by legislation from Congress—are worth, according to the CRFB. That’s an eye-watering $22,000 for each of the 330 million people in the United States that was set aside for central bank actions including new asset purchasing programs for securities, municipal bonds and riskier corporate bonds, new loans to banks, and new emergency facilities like the Main Street Lending program.

The coronavirus crisis isn’t the first time the federal government has opted to spend big during a crisis to prop up an ailing economy. In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, Congress spent $1.8 trillion on fiscal stimulus, or 2.4% of GDP, to help the country climb out of the Great Recession, the CRFB estimates. Many of the measures lawmakers took then—sending more aid to state and local governments, expanding unemployment benefits, making temporary changes to tax policy, and even stimulus checks—have been repeated or expanded in 2020’s relief legislation, which the left-leaning think tank estimates will cost about 3% of GDP over the next four years.

Some experts are warning that the $900 billion plan, passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in the final days of 2020 as crucial relief programs from the CARES Act had already lapsed or were on the verge of expiring, won’t be enough to stem the economic damage the pandemic has already caused. President-elect Joe Biden has been adamant that his administration will enact more emergency relief measures once he takes office in January. He has referred to the new $900 billion package as a “down payment” and has asked lawmakers to be prepared to negotiate another aid bill next year.

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