UPDATED MAY 11, 2023: Days after Dr. Joel Zinberg was published in The Wall Street Journal saying “don’t let unspent covid funds become slush funds,” President Joe Biden announced “he would take a “hard look” at clawing back unspent COVID relief funds.”
The House has passed the Limit, Save, Grow Act, which would raise the debt limit for a year in exchange for deficit-relief measures. One of those measures—recovering billions of dollars of approved but unspent Covid-19 relief funds—shouldn’t be controversial. The official public-health emergency ends Thursday. The actual emergency has been over for a long time. But some lawmakers want to use the money as a slush fund.
Congress appropriated $4.6 trillion for pandemic response and recovery in six Covid-19 relief laws enacted between March 2020 and March 2021. More than two years later, $444 billion of the total remains unspent. More than $114 billion hasn’t even been “obligated,” or committed to pay for goods and services ordered or received. Of this amount, $90.5 billion remains available for obligation and $23.7 billion has expired, meaning that it can’t be used to incur new obligations.
Section 201 of the House bill calls for the rescission—permanent cancellation—of these unobligated balances. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, objects and has produced an eight-page list of projects she says wouldn’t be funded if the unobligated balances are rescinded.