“The widespread use of COVID relief funds to line the wallets of public employees should also raise even more questions about whether a federal bailout of state and local governments was necessary. Expected revenue shortfalls in state and local tax coffers never materialized—and many states emerged from the pandemic with surpluses instead.
States have until the end of 2024 to spend the federal aid distributed as part of the American Rescue Plan, so the totals reported so far (the Treasury’s tracker has been updated to include spending through December 31 of last year) could increase.
In an analysis of the spending published last month, the Treasury notes that state and local governments spent $5 billion of their federal COVID aid on “worker support,” a category that includes those bonuses along with things like unemployment payments and job training. That’s the same amount of money that states and local governments reported using for actual COVID relief—a category that includes “vaccinations, testing, contact tracing, PPE, prevention in congregate facilities, medical expenses, and other public health measures.””