January 25, 2021

Here’s Everything the Federal Government Has Done to Respond to the Coronavirus So Far

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused a severe public health crisis as well as substantial economic disruption for every American. So far, lawmakers have enacted five major bills, costing about $3.5 billion, to help manage the pandemic and mitigate the economic burden on families and businesses. Below is a recap of that legislation.

Total coronavirus legislation endacted thus far.


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Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act

As an initial response, policymakers enacted legislation in early March that provided $8.3 billion in emergency funding for public health agencies and coronavirus vaccine research. That bill appropriated $7.8 billion in discretionary funding to federal, state, and local health agencies and authorized $500 million in mandatory spending through a change in Medicare.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act

On March 18, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was enacted to provide economic support to those in need. That legislation, totaling $192 billion, included a number of key components, including:

  • Enhancing unemployment insurance benefits
  • Increasing federal Medicaid and food-security spending
  • Requiring certain employers to provide paid sick leave as well as family and medical leave (and expanding tax credits for those employers to offset the cost of providing such leave)
  • Providing free coverage for coronavirus testing under government health programs

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

As a follow-up, lawmakers enacted the CARES Act, a relief package of around $2 trillion, on March 27 to address the near-term economic impact the virus is having on families and businesses. Some of the key items in the legislation include:

  • Financial Assistance to Large Companies and Governments. Approximately $500 billion will be used to assist companies that are critical to national security and distressed sectors of the economy. Of that sum, about $450 billion will support loans to businesses, states, and municipalities through a new Federal Reserve lending facility. That support is not expected to increase federal deficits.
  • Economic support for small businesses. Totaling about $380 billion, that support is largely for the creation of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which allocated $349 billion in funding through the CARES Act to offer as loans to small businesses to help them avoid laying off their workers. Additionally, portions of the loans spent on payroll, rent, or utilities are eligible for forgiveness.
  • Direct payments to taxpayers. Taxpayers with annual incomes up to $75,000 (or $150,000 for married couples) will receive payments of $1,200; that payment amount will gradually phase out for higher income earners with a cap at an annual salary of $99,000 (or $198,000 for married couples). Families would also receive an additional $500 per qualifying child. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that this provision would require about $290 billion in funding.
  • Further expansion of unemployment benefits. Such benefits would be significantly expanded under the legislation — extending unemployment insurance by 13 weeks, boosting benefits by up to $600 per week for four months, and expanding eligibility requirements to include more categories of workers. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that such an expansion would cost about $270 billion.
  • Federal aid to hospital and healthcare providers. About $150 billion would be provided to help hospitals, community health centers, and other healthcare providers prepare for and respond to the pandemic.
  • Various tax incentives. Businesses would be allowed to defer payroll taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare. A number of other tax benefits would also be provided; the largest effect would stem from the ability of individual taxpayers to use business losses in recent years to offset nonbusiness income.

Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act

On April 24, policymakers enacted the Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Enhancement Act. That bill, totaling $483 billion, will provide an additional $383 billion in economic support for small businesses ($321 billion to replenish the PPP, $60 billion for emergency lending for small businesses, and $2 billion for salaries and expenses to administer such programs), another $75 billion in funding for hospitals, and about $25 billion to fund more testing for the pandemic.

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, enacted on December 27, 2020, included $868 billion of federal support to help mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are the components of that latest relief package:

  • Aid to small businesses ($302 billion). The CARES Act created thePaycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provided loans to small businesses that were impacted by the broad economic shutdowns that were meant to mitigate the spread of the pandemic. The latest package allows small businesses to receive a second round of PPP loans and ensures that such assistance will not be taxed. This category also includes Economic Injury Disaster Loan advances and emergency grants to entertainment venues.
  • Direct payments to individuals ($164 billion). Individuals making up to $75,000 per year will receive a payment of $600, with an additional $600 for each dependent child. All payments phase out at higher incomes. (See how Americans spent the last round of stimulus checks.)
  • Increased unemployment benefits ($119 billion). The earlier relief legislation provided several enhancements to unemployment insurance benefits that were ultimately allowed to expire. The current package restores those enhancements, albeit at more modest levels. It adds $300 per week to unemployment benefits, continues “gig” worker eligibility for unemployment benefits, and lengthens the maximum period that a worker can collect unemployment to 50 weeks.
  • Aid for schools ($82 billion). About two-thirds of the total amount is for grants to public K-12 schools, and most of the remainder is for grants to higher education.
  • Health-specific measures ($78 billion). Included in this category is $29 billion designated for the procurement and distribution of coronavirus vaccines and treatments and $22 billion for testing, tracing, and mitigation of coronavirus. An additional $14 billion will support healthcare providers and bolster mental health services, and the National Institutes of Health will receive $1 billion to engage in further coronavirus research.
  • Other measures ($123 billion). The legislation also includes funding for transportation, increased food stamp benefits, additional childcare assistance, rental assistance, and other programs.

Learn More: Interactive Tool: How Much Coronavirus Funding Has Gone to Your State?

Image credit: Photo by Cindy Ord / Getty Images


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