The American Rescue Plan — the signature initiative thus far in President Joe Biden’s tenure — has passed the U.S. House, sparking renewed debate over what exactly is in the $1.9 trillion package.
Democrats are presenting the mammoth bill as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 500,000 lives and disrupted business, schooling and personal lives on every conceivable level.
Republicans say it’s a pork-stuffed wish list that’s being opportunistically rammed through a Democratic-controlled Congress.
Many Wisconsin Republicans seized on one particular number in attacking the plan:
U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald in a statement: "More than 91% of the spending in this $1.9 trillion package is not used for pandemic relief."
U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher on Twitter: "9% of the $1.9 trillion the ‘American Rescue Plan’ spends goes to actually fighting the Coronavirus."
U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman on Twitter: "The public has been told that today’s #BidenBailoutBill is a #COVID19 relief bill. Only 9% goes toward COVID."
Former Gov. Scott Walker on Facebook: "Stop the Pelosi Payoff as only 9% of the bill is for COVID health-related relief."
We’re going to focus on Fitzgerald, who makes the broadest claim in the group.
Is it true that the initiative billed as a COVID "relief" bill directs hardly any funding in that direction?
The analysis here examines the House version of the plan, which still must pass the Senate before it could head to Biden’s desk to be signed into law. The Senate could make changes — notably it is expected to drop efforts to increase the minimum wage — which would bounce it back to the House.
Fitzgerald’s office didn’t immediately respond to our request for evidence of his claim, but we have plenty of information from outside sources to examine it.
To be sure, the American Rescue Plan includes many measures unrelated to COVID-19.
PolitiFact National rated Mostly True a claim from conservative Stand for America that the bill contains unrelated projects. Examples cited in that fact check included a $1.5 million bridge connecting New York and Canada, a $100 million underground rail project in Silicon Valley, $480 million for Native American language preservation and maintenance and $50 million in environmental justice grants. The bill would also raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and change pension funding rules.
All told, about 15% of the proposal goes to "long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis," said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization formed to educate the public on federal budget issues.
On the flip side, the 9% figure is roughly in line with the amount of money going to direct COVID-19 intervention.
In a fact check confirming about 1% is allotted to vaccinations, PolitiFact National found between $100 billion and $160 billion goes to direct intervention, depending on whether one includes items like $10 billion in medical supplies and $24 billion in child care for essential workers, as the White House does in arriving at the larger figure.
That’s 4.5% to 8.5% of the total $1.9 trillion total.
But a long list of other initiatives are clearly related to the pandemic, according to a breakdown by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
About 22% of the total bill comes from the $422 billion set aside for $1,400-per-person stimulus checks. Another 13% ($246 billion) is for extending additional unemployment funding of $400 per week.
A combined 12% is going to the following:
Subsidized COBRA for laid-off workers
Affordable Care Act subsidies for the next two years
Expanded nutrition assistance to replace school lunch programs during the pandemic
Funding for testing and contact tracing
Disaster Relief Fund increases and covering COVID-related funeral expenses
Grants to airlines and contractors to freeze layoffs through September
Defense Production Act funding for medical supplies
Grants for restaurants and bars that have lost revenue in the pandemic
Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance grants of up to $10,000 per business.
It’s hard to describe anything on that list as unrelated to the pandemic and its economic fallout.
Another $519 billion — 27% of the total — is going to state and local governments and schools, much of which will make up losses related to the pandemic and spur school re-opening. Republicans note much of the school funding, however, won’t be spent immediately.
Fitzgerald said, "More than 91% of the spending in this $1.9 trillion package is not used for pandemic relief."
Somewhere around 9% of the American Rescue Plan is going to direct disease containment measures such as vaccines, testing and tracing, and other public health initiatives.
There’s room for debate over exactly how much of the $1.9 trillion is related to the pandemic. Surely not all of it. But it’s clear the amount going toward pandemic relief is far above 9%.
One nonpartisan group identified 85% of the spending as being related to the current crisis. A closer look at the individual spending categories confirms, at minimum, that a majority of the spending goes to address the health and economic fallout of the pandemic.
PolitiFact North Carolina rated Half True a claim from U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., that only 9% of the bill was going to COVID, and 91% wasn’t COVID-related. Budd got some credit for referencing 9% in a way consistent with the portion used for direct funding, and there’s a case "COVID-related" could reference only direct spending.
But Fitzgerald is farther off in flatly asserting 91% didn’t go toward pandemic relief. That’s a broad claim that badly misstates the figure he’s trying to reference, that 91% didn’t go toward direct COVID-19 intervention.
We rate his claim Mostly False.