After a long, arduous process of political agendas taking priority over helping Americans suffering under unending lockdowns, killing their ability to provide for themselves, Congress passed a COVID spending bill on Monday evening, after lawmakers came to a compromise on Sunday. The relief package includes many of the expected items, while also including many bizarre items unrelated to the pandemic and its associated economic issues.
If President Trump signs the bill, direct electronic payments — $600 for individuals, $1,200 for married couples, and $600 per dependent — will be directly sent to every citizen or permanent resident who makes less than $75,000 a year (or $150,000 for joint filing married couples), with the payment amount phasing out for higher incomes. This proves a substantial change from the CARES ACT this summer, which gave $1,200 per individual and $500 per dependent.
The bill funds state and federal unemployment benefits at $300 a week, extending the period in which workers can claim government money to stay unemployed to 50 weeks, or nearly an entire year. Further, money is allocated to support various industries and businesses harmed by the lockdowns, including but not limited to airports, cinemas, theaters, farms, and small businesses.
However, details of the checks, unemployment benefits, and bailouts do not fill the 5,593 pages. Instead, the prohibitively long and oddly complex document contains ridiculous provisions with no connection to the pandemic. President Trump declared he is unsatisfied with the bailout package, promising to veto the bill unless the individual payments be increased from $600 to $2,000, a decision receiving bipartisan support.
Congress can hopefully reallocate money from some of the following places, all of which have nothing to do with recovering from the public health, economic, and societal crisis brought on by the coronavirus.
Pakistan is receiving $25 million in a package supposedly aimed to help America get through the shutdowns; $15 million is going to “democracy programs,” while another $10 million is being allocated towards unspecified “gender programs.”
After receiving $25 million in the first COVID stimulus, the Kennedy Center is receiving $40 million for operations, maintenance, and renovations. Unsurprisingly, several senators and representatives, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are on the board.
The bill is quite preoccupied with diversity endeavors within the government. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion of the Appropriations Committee are receiving $1.5 million. Further, the bill gives national intelligence 180 days to demonstrate “exercising hiring flexibilities” to “assure quality and diversity of the workforce.”
As the entire world is facing the effects of the coronavirus, it might make sense the bill would have a section focused on “Global Health.” What makes less sense is spending nearly $200 million on new cars for foreign HIV/AIDS workers. Helping federal health workers abroad is doubtlessly important, but in a bill intended to focus on helping the American people and economy though a difficult time is not the place for it, especially after politicians have been deficit spending to record highs with no signs of making plans for how Americans hobbled by COVID shutdowns will ever pay for all of this.
For a stimulus package, this bill is also surprisingly educationally minded, even though the majority of the nation’s public schools have remained closed and online schooling for the better part of the last year. The bill funds educational campaigns to teach Americans not to put flammable liquids next to open flames. The bill also includes funding for programs to dissuade teenagers from underage drinking, drug use, and sex.
It is also randomly historically-minded, promising funding for researching the 1908 Springfield Race Riot and engaging in archeological study of the associated locations. Aside from allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to wholly unrelated projects, the purported relief bill is filled with arbitrary, vague, oppressive, or merely irrelevant regulations.
The last COVID spending spree severely hampered states’ ability to increase school choice with their education allocation. In the CARES Act, $3 billion was allotted to Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEERF), which gave governors the flexibility to fund whatever educational initiatives they deemed important. GEERF funds were allocated at the discretion of the governors, but could be used to strengthen school choice programs, as was done in Florida, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina.
The new bill specifically undid this flexibility, stating the money cannot be used to “provide tax support vouchers, tuition tax credit programs, education savings accounts, scholarships, scholarship programs, or tuition assistance programs” or provide indirect help for any organization that grants scholarships for “elementary or secondary education.”
While Americans struggle financially and psychologically, Congress also focused on the all-important world of horse racing regulations. In a section entitled “The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020,” a committee is formed to enact anti-doping measures. It also bans the use of tranquilizers before races. Because, when people are struggling financially and psychologically due to seemingly ceaseless shutdowns, the rules of fair practices in horse racing is a truly important federal matter.