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Wisconsin received $2.5 billion under the American Rescue Plan Act, known as ARPA.
Of the portion that had been allocated as of March 2022, some 31.56% went to business assistance, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
That put Wisconsin at the top of the 50 states at the time.
But there are caveats, including that rankings may have changed since the study was released and that the analysis Evers is relying on didn’t include other COVID relief, such as the earlier CARES Act.
With Wisconsin’s Republican gubernatorial primary in the books, businessman Tim Michels can turn his attention to the fall battle against Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat.
Evers, meanwhile, has been tuning up a message framed around an area typically associated with Republicans: Business.
"We are number one in the country as far as our spending money on businesses as it relates to the percentage of federal funds that we receive," Evers told Charles Benson of WTMJ-TV, Channel 4, in a July 24, 2022, interview.
Evers made a similar claim in his February 2022 State of the State Address:
"I’m proud to report that, as a share of the federal aid our state has received, Wisconsin ranked second in the country for aid we’ve directed to economic development, and we ranked first in the country in aid we’ve allocated to businesses."
Evers is talking, of course, about COVID relief funding that came to the state – money that, notably, was up to Evers alone (not the GOP-controlled Legislature) to distribute.
Does Wisconsin really rank first in money allocated to businesses, when measured as a percentage of federal funds received?
Let’s take a look.
When asked to back up Evers’ claim, spokesperson Britt Cudaback cited figures from the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank that analyzes the impact of federal and state government budget policies.
Those figures focused on the American Rescue Plan Act (known as ARPA), a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021, to help the U.S. recover from the economic fallout and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But that’s only one COVID-related stimulus plan, a point we’ll come back to later.
According to the center’s data spelling out ARPA allocations through March 2022, of the $2.5 billion given to Wisconsin, some 80.3% has been allocated.
Here are the top five states, by percentage of money used as assistance to businesses – and, in parentheses, the total allocated to businesses.
Wisconsin: 31.56% ($641 million)
Maine: 18.69% ($186 million)
Rhode Island: 17.23% ($20.5 million)
North Carolina: 11.66% ($630 million)
Illinois: 11.46% ($323 million)
That’s consistent with how Evers said he would spend the money. He noted in a March 29, 2021, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article that at least $600 million would go to Wisconsin businesses.
To be sure, if you include territories, Wisconsin is not at the very top.
Wesley Tharpe, the organization’s deputy director of state policy research, considers the characterization by Evers "somewhat imprecise" because "technically Guam has allocated the highest share to business assistance of funds received so far (56.9%)."
That said, people generally understand a comparison such as that by Evers to be among the 50 states.
Tharpe also noted that the percentages are based only on money allocated as of March 2022, "so there’s no guarantee that that ranking will hold once the remaining dollars go out."
So, those are a couple modest caveats about the data.
Here’s another one: The group’s analysis covers only ARPA money.
Before ARPA, there was the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (known as CARES), a bipartisan $2 trillion package signed in March 2020 by then-President Donald Trump. The state got some $2 billion through that package.
But the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has not done a comparable state-by state analysis of the CARES Act — and Evers’ own staff said it is unaware of any analysis that takes a comprehensive look at the combined COVID-related grant money.
The National Conference of State Legislatures created a database that looks more broadly at COVID relief money and what the various states did with it. But as it is structured, state-to-state comparisons are difficult — and Cudaback, Evers’ spokesperson, acknowledged gaps in that information and that the two groups may collect and categorize the information differently.
She also argued that the programs Evers was talking about at the time of the claim were related to spending specifically for ARPA funds, so the factors "suggest the governor was referring specifically to ARPA investments."
Evers said "We are number one in the country as far as our spending (COVID relief) money on businesses as it relates to the percentage of federal funds that we receive."
Based on the available information, the claim appears to be on target, with a few caveats. Among them: The data focuses on money distributed through ARPA and the figures are only for money distributed through March, so the final picture could change.
Our definition for Half True is a statement that is "partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."
That fits here.
Gov. Tony Evers "State of the State," Feb. 15, 2022.
Email, Britt Cudaback, Gov. Tony Evers spokesperson
Email, Jason Stein, Wisconsin Policy Forum, August 9, 2022
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities "How States Can Best Use Federal Fiscal Recovery Funds: Lessons From State Choices So Far," April 22, 2022.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities "Fiscal Recovery Fund Spending by States, U.S. Territories
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Gov. Tony Evers announces he'll direct $2.5 billion in federal relief money to economic recovery in Wisconsin," March 29, 2021
Wisconsin Policy Forum "Despite massive influx, Wisconsin lagged most states in pandemic aid," April 2022
Email media staff, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, August 8, 2022
USA Today "Coronavirus updates: Trump signs $2T aid package; US tops 100K cases; Disney parks close indefinitely," March 27, 2020
U.S. Department of the Treasury "Assistance for Small Businesses"
Small Business Administration "COVID-19 Relief Options"
Peter G. Peterson Foundation "Here’s Everything the Federal Government Has Done to Respond to the Coronavirus So Far," March 15, 2021.
Britannica "Guam, island, Pacific Ocean"
CBS News "Biden signs $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law," March 12, 2021
Legislative Fiscal Bureau "Coronavirus Relief Fund Monies Under the Federal CARES Act," Oct. 22, 2020.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities "How will states and localities divide the fiscal relief in the Coronavirus Relief Fund?" , March 27, 2020.
News release "Gov. Evers Provides Update on More than $4.5 Billion in Pandemic Relief and Recovery Investments," August 16, 2021.
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