A Look At How the U.S. Spent Covid Relief in 2021

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic triggered waves of layoffs and interruptions in benefits that plummeted the economy into uncertainty. To supplement the economy and ensure Americans could stay afloat, the federal government passed the CARES act. Just over a $2 trillion package, it included relief like direct checks to Americans, money for unemployment programs and support for small businesses. 

The initial stimulus package was passed in a matter of weeks, though progress on the next stimulus package has slowed significantly. We examined and compiled federal agency data to break down U.S. spending in response to Covid-19.

Total US spending in response to COVID-19

The CARES act is the big name that everyone knows, but three main phases of legislation passed in response to the pandemic.

  • Phase 1: Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act — $8.3 billion for small business loans, vaccine development and state departments.
  • Phase 2: Families First Coronavirus Response Act — $100 billion in tax credits to support unemployment insurance, paid sick leave and food assistance for families. 
  • Phase 3: The CARES Act — A massive $2.2 trillion, 800-page long bill packed with money for things like small businesses, state governments, and stimulus checks.  

Total budgetary resources for COVID response has totaled to $2.6 trillion — equal to 45% of federal spending for all of 2019. The CARES act had the largest budget allotted for several sectors. The most being: 

  • Business support —  $500B
  • Small business resources — $350B
  • Stimulus checks — $300B
  • Unemployment benefits — $250B
  • State governments —  $150B
  • Health — $140B
  • FEMA — $45B
  • Agriculture —  $35B

How federal dollars move to the American people

Once the $2 trillion dollars of the CARES act was passed, it didn’t go straight into the hands of Americans. Instead, there’s a set three-step process the funds passed through to move from the government to the people who need it. As of September 30, $1.55 trillion have been paid out and $1,58 trillion are still waiting in the obligation stage.

  • Appropriations — The process all starts with the Treasury, who will issue the funds to the corresponding agency spending accounts. 
  • Obligations – Once agencies have received their portions of the funds, they begin to make obligations through contracts, grants, loans or direct payments. 
  • Outlays — At this stage, the money is finally authorized to be paid and is sent to where it was specified. 
In this article

    Government funding per agencies

    The CARES act’s significant budget came from a total of 38 federal agencies that contributed to COVID-19 relief. The agencies that authorized the largest amount of spending were the Department of Treasury, Small Business Administration, Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Services. Given the areas that were hit the hardest — small businesses, health and education — it’s no surprise that these federal agencies are the top contributors. 

    [ Read: Here Is What To Do If You Run Out of Unemployment Benefits ]

    The job of the Treasury is to manage the U.S. government’s finances and foster a healthy economy. The onset of the pandemic and state lockdowns created a crisis for businesses, and workers, making it the Treasury’s top priority to stabilize the economy.

    AgencyBudgetary ResourcesTotal ObligationsTotal Outlays
    Department of the Treasury$958,412,379,013$486,008,127,494$472,732,704,631
    Small Business Administration$760,982,000,000$586,594,046,564$577,762,485,048
    Department of Labor$358,432,252,644358,305,128,688$345,492,643,294
    Department of Health and Human Services$250,355,400,000$158,131,939,519$113,457,433,836
    Department of Agriculture$73,217,050,000$4,287,030,566$2,488,637,863
    Department of Education$57,677,719,728$57,037,499,320$38,094,701,549
    Department of Homeland Security$46,162,187,000$29,823,691,842$126,235,093
    Department of Transportation$36,085,137,000$33,685,116,905$16,122,983,147
    Department of Veterans Affairs$19,629,500,000$7,480,399,531$5,530,395,939
    Department of Housing and Urban Development$12,494,866,182$6,793,398,799$2,347,219,760

    With the immediate need for small business and worker relief, as well as protective equipment for medical professionals and technology for schools, it makes sense that the Department of Labor, Health and Education also tops the list in contributions.

    Financial assistance per state

    The money given to states was intended to pay for all coronavirus expenses from March 1 through December 30 — every state got $1.25 billion in relief, regardless of its population. While that sounds fair, it meant that states with the lowest populations received more money per capita, and states with epicenters — like New York —  burned through their resources in a matter of months.

    [ Read: Biden’s Stimulus Proposal and Relief Plan, Explained ]

    Every state is battling its problems, whether it be case numbers or halts in production. But, the way relief was distributed caused its own set of problems. Wyoming, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Vermont and West Virginia were among the states that received the least amount of funds. For perspective, North Dakota has a population of 762,062, while New York City alone has over eight million residents.

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    Taylor Leamey

    Personal Finance Reporter

    Taylor Leamey is a personal finance reporter at The Simple Dollar who specializes in personal loans, student loans, mortgages, renters, and financial policy. Her reporting has also been featured at CreditCards.com, Interest.com, Reviews.com, MyMove.com, and elsewhere.

    Reviewed by

    • Andrea Perez
      Andrea Perez
      Personal Finance Editor

      Andrea Perez is an editor at The Simple Dollar who leads our news and opinion coverage. She specializes in financial policy, banking, and investing.