It was the largest emergency spending explosion in U.S. history: two years, six laws and more than $5 trillion earmarked to break the deadly grip of the coronavirus pandemic. The money has spared America’s economy from ruin and put vaccines in millions of weapons, but it has also invited unprecedented levels of fraud, abuse and opportunism.
In a year-long investigation, the Washington Post is following the covid money trail to figure out what happened to all that money. Here are our main conclusions.
Lots of money, little oversight
Washington cannot fully follow this historical distribution of federal aid. It’s clear that billions have been mis-spent or stolen, but officials don’t know exactly how much. Even when wrongdoing is apparent, experts say the money may never be recovered.
- “Immense fraud” creates a huge task for Washington as it tries to tighten scrutiny of trillions in emergency coronavirus spending. Read more
Haste made waste
With the economy in freefall, legislators and many agencies have chosen haste over precision, opening the door to waste, fraud and abuse. For example, the Small Business Administration saved hundreds of thousands of businesses from collapse, but it also sent billions of dollars to businesses that probably shouldn’t have gotten the money.
- The SBA approved loans showing signs of fraud early in the pandemic, according to the House report. Read more
- Live Nation affiliates have received millions in grants aimed at independent theaters. Read more
Few rules, favorite projects
At one point, Congress sent about $500 billion directly to cities, counties, and states to bolster their budgets. But the money often came with few rules. Republican officials, in particular, have found ways to funnel funds into pet projects unrelated to the pandemic, including cutting taxes and building border walls.
- Republican states are trying to use federal covid aid to cut taxes. Read more
- Federal watchdog opens ‘review’ into Texas’ use of covid aid for border crackdowns. Read more
- How federal pandemic aid helped Texas pay for its border crackdown. Read more
- Vaccine bonuses, business aid and . . . a golf course? Cities and states have used $350 billion in stimulus windfalls for a wide variety of purposes. Read more
A boon for criminals
The huge sums of money that saved some families from financial ruin also attracted sophisticated criminal networks. For example, criminals stole the identities of thousands of innocent Americans and obtained unemployment checks in their names, making funds difficult to access when people legitimately needed help.
- ‘A magnet for scammers’: Fraud embezzled billions from pandemic unemployment benefits. Read more
Understaffed, unprepared and overstretched federal agencies often fumbled to disburse the huge sums of money efficiently. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, where watchdogs have warned of years of mismanagement, a nearly $400 million job-training program has so far created less than 400 jobs.
- Millions in covid aid went to retrain veterans. Only 397 got a job. Read more
The rich have their own
Some aid programs have exacerbated economic disparities. Those with the deepest pockets, the savest lawyers and the best connections often proved adept at accessing the money, while some of the hardest-hit schools, hospitals, businesses and families were wronged.
- How federal covid aid spread through Xavier’s class. Read more
- The unintended consequences of the $178 billion bailout to keep hospitals and doctors afloat. Read more