On Wednesday, many Americans saw their $1,400 stimulus checks hit their bank accounts, courtesy of the mammoth coronavirus relief package Democrats shoehorned through Congress last week.
The final destinations are fuzzier, however, for some of the other blocks of cash provided in the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, ostensibly aimed at alleviating the economic suffering caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Some of the items are only loosely related to relieving pandemic woes, and in some cases, Democrats appear to have given up attempting to connect the funding to the coronavirus at all, raising eyebrows among critics who argued the package should not be used as a “Trojan Horse” for a Democratic agenda.
“What we’re talking about here [was] a bill that only spent about one percent on vaccines and about nine percent on the entire health [fight],” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a floor speech.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) responded to McConnell by arguing that the relief package is aimed at the problems that the pandemic created.
“What part doesn’t he like? Does he not like giving checks to people who need help? Does he not like opening schools safely? Does he not like vaccines?” Schumer said, claiming that those items make up more than half the bill.
Among the more curious appropriations, the stimulus bill gives $135 million each to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The bill reserves even more, $200 million, for the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
The NEA had already been allotted more than $162 million for the entire fiscal year of 2020 in a spending bill passed at the end of 2019, an increase in the organization’s funding from the previous year. Combined with the $75 million the NEA received in the CARES Act last year, the total of additional aid is well above the organization’s normal yearly budget.
Some of the NEA’s recent grants include $50,000 to help bring “Trans Scripts,” a play about actual individuals who transitioned from male to female, to the U.S., and nearly $100,000 to adapt Shakespeare plays for the stage without words. The NEA and Institute of Museum and Library Services also teamed up to spend nearly a half a million dollars on a museum exhibit that “intends to provide attendees with the sights, sounds, smells, feel and taste of medieval times.”
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting also gets $175 million.
Another eye-catching item the stimulus bill provides is $20 million “to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native American languages during and after the public health emergency.”
Another $100 million will go toward Native American housing improvement.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also receive $95 million worth of financial padding, and the Environmental Protection Agency will receive $100 million, half of which is designated to “identify and address disproportionate environmental or public health harms and risks in minority populations or low-income populations.”
Some of the funding in the bill, passed without the support of a single Republican in either chamber of Congress, is scheduled to be doled out over several years, as late as 2027.
The package reserves several large funding blocks for cybersecurity and technology, including $200 million to remain available well into 2024 for the U.S. Digital Service, the federal tech unit established after the Obamacare website’s disastrous launch and crash in 2013.
Another $650 million is reserved through 2023 for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to be used for cybersecurity risk mitigation, and $1 billion through 2025 for the Technology Modernization Fund, which enhances IT at federal agencies.
“Without modern and nimble IT systems, the federal government cannot deliver critical payments and services to individuals, families, and businesses who rely on them,” Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) wrote in a letter to House leadership in which they pushed for TMF funding in the bill.
Although the bill is purportedly a coronavirus relief bill, $3.5 billion will go to fight other diseases in the form of a contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
Critics have also complained about a $350 billion “bailout” in the bill for state, local, and tribal governments that they say were badly managed by Democrats even before the pandemic.
Democrats tried and failed to include several other pricey items, including $112 million for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) expansion, an underground rail project in Silicon Valley that has seen slow progress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) represents most of San Francisco, where the subway currently runs.
The Biden administration’s attempt to use the stimulus bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour was also scrapped after two moderate Democratic senators indicated they would not vote for it.