School Districts Are Using Their COVID-19 Relief Money on Vape Detectors, Tennis Courts

“Earlier this year, schools around the country received more than a hundred billion dollars from the federal government—American taxpayers, in truth—in order to recover from the pandemic and finally get back to the task of teaching kids.
The feds stipulated that 20 percent of that money be put toward addressing learning losses during the pandemic, but the bulk of it can be spent at schools’ discretion. Which means, of course, that many schools are using this sudden injection of cash to make improvements that have nothing to do with keeping COVID-19 at bay.

“Some districts are investing big money in initiatives that don’t appear at first glance strictly COVID-related,” notes Education Week. “Miami-Dade schools plan to spend $30 million, or $86 per student, on cybersecurity. Raleigh County schools in West Virginia lists a $9 million effort—more than $800 per student—to expand an elementary school, adding nine classrooms, upgrading the library, expanding the kitchen, and separating the cafeteria and the gym. The Newport News school district in Virginia is spending $840,000 for a new student information system to help teachers catalog students’ academic progress.”

An unnamed school district will use some of its COVID-19 relief funds to install vape detection devices, purchase new student ID cards, and build a tennis court.

Indeed, many districts seem to be spending significant chunks of money on upgrading athletic facilities and expanding stadiums, according to Education Week. Athletics can be an important part of many students’ lives, and letting kids get back to sports was a good reason (among many) to move away from the soul-crushing farce of virtual learning and get everybody back in school. But a slightly nicer football field probably isn’t going to improve students’ test scores or make them safer from COVID-19, which after all are the two primary justifications for all the spending.”

What Did Public Schools Do With COVID Relief Money? Whatever They Wanted.

“The federal government sent around $190 billion in aid to public schools across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is a lot of money by any standards, but in terms of federal spending on primary education, it is a shockingly large amount: as Reason’s Matt Welch explained when surveying the Biden administration’s weak moves toward promoting public school reopening back in February, that’s more than four times as much as the federal government tended to push toward K-12 education a year in pre-COVID times.

Is the money being diligently used for its intended purpose? Of course not. A survey by ProPublica found, when examining some of the “provisional annual reports…by state education agencies” for about $3 billion worth of the aid from March to September of 2020, that “just over half of the $3 billion in aid was categorized as ‘other,’ providing no insight into how the funds were allocated.”

Over the last school year, 15 states constituting around a quarter of the total U.S. population didn’t even manage to achieve 50 percent effective in-person education, the alleged purpose of all that federal COVID money.”

“”The law places few restrictions on how districts can spend the federal aid, as long as the investments are loosely connected to the effects of the pandemic,” ProPublica explains, while noting that various districts, as reported by the Associated Press, are diverting the cash to athletics. The schools are supposed to spend all the money by 2024. The Associated Press reports that although schools “are required to tell states how they’re spending the money…some schools are using local funding for sports projects and then replacing it with the federal relief—a maneuver that skirts reporting requirements.””

Could Covid-19 finally end hunger in America?

“A peculiar thing happened last year during the Covid-19 pandemic: As large swaths of the U.S. economy shut down and unemployment skyrocketed, hunger rates held steady and poverty rates went down.

From the pandemic’s earliest days, Washington showed it had learned the lessons of past crises like the 2008 financial collapse, when policymakers responded with too little too late to help people get by and the economic recovery was hampered as a result. So as the country faced a once-in-a-century pandemic and the sharpest economic downturn since the Great Depression, Congress threw trillions at the double disaster, sending unprecedented levels of aid to American families and businesses.

Soon, a pattern was evident, thanks in part to real-time monitoring by the U.S. Census Bureau: When Washington doled out federal aid, hardship declined. When Washington let aid expire, hardship ticked back up.

In essence, the pandemic triggered a country-wide policy experiment aimed at keeping families fed and financially afloat. There have been big increases in food stamps and unemployment benefits. Three rounds of stimulus checks. Universal free meals at schools and new grocery benefits for kids who are learning virtually, or out of school during the summer. Hundreds of millions of food boxes flooded into churches and other nonprofits.

The latest tranche of aid may carry the biggest bang yet: six monthly child tax credit payments that will be dispersed through the end of the year. The first two rounds of payments that went out in July and August fueled a dramatic reduction in the rate of American households with kids who report sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the past week, according to the Census Bureau.

All that aid appears to have worked.

“Lo and behold, if you give people money, they are less poor,” said Elaine Waxman, an economist and senior fellow at the Urban Institute who has closely monitored how low-income households have fared throughout the crisis.”

“the U.S. has long been seen as an outlier for its comparatively limited safety net, and is sometimes referred to as “the reluctant welfare state.” Other wealthy countries, like Canada and the United Kingdom, have more generous unemployment programs and provide allowances to help with the costs of raising children, on top of providing health care and other benefits that are broadly available, even to middle-income households.

By contrast, in the United States, there has been a much greater focus on ensuring aid goes primarily to low-income households that have met strict eligibility and income requirements. America’s two biggest safety net programs, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, (still known to many as “food stamps”), have fairly low income caps and are squarely aimed at providing in-kind benefits like medical coverage and food — not giving people money to spend how they see fit.”

The Cuomo Pandemic Scandal No One Is Talking About

“The last two COVID relief bills passed by Congress in December 2020 and March 2021 collectively appropriated $46 billion to cover the massive amount of unpaid rent that tenants have accumulated during the pandemic.

By the end of January 2021, the federal government had released close to $25 billion of that money—including about $1.2 billion to New York state’s ERAP. Subsequent federal grants and state money would fund the program to the tune of $2.7 billion, according to City Limits.

And yet by the end of June, New York had, per U.S. Treasury Department data, managed to spend $0 of its rent relief funds. A month later only $1.2 million had gone out the door.

A major reason for the slow dispersal of funds is that the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA)—which is responsible for administering the program—took until June 2021 to start accepting applications. When it did get an online application portal up and running, tenants and landlords were met with crashing websites, and requests for documents they didn’t have.

Applications would take hours to complete, yet the online web portal lacked a feature allowing people to save their progress and try again later. People who called into a hotline to report problems said that staff often had no answers for them.”

“most state governments have done a pretty poor job of getting their rent relief programs off the ground. (The speed at which places like Virginia and Texas have managed to disperse funds shows that success wasn’t impossible.)

Nevertheless, New York has earned the distinction of being the slowest. As of Monday, the state has spent $100 million on rent relief, or about 4 percent of total ERAP funds.”

The big drop in American poverty during the pandemic, explained

“In March, researchers at Columbia led by Zachary Parolin estimated that as a result of President Joe Biden’s stimulus package, the American Rescue Plan, the US poverty rate would fall to 8.5 percent, the lowest figure on record and well below 2018’s figure of 12.8 percent. This past month, researchers at the Urban Institute, using a slightly different means of measuring poverty, found that 2021 poverty will be around 7.7 percent, almost a halving relative to 2018’s rate of 13.9 percent per their methodology. (Official US Census poverty statistics for 2020 have not yet been released.)

The Columbia authors find that if you compare 2021 to every year for which the census does have data, from 1967 to 2019, and use a consistent poverty line, 2021 is projected to have the lowest poverty rate on record.

Considering that the US endured a pandemic and economic shock in 2020, these numbers are remarkable.”

“If handing out cash led people to work dramatically fewer hours or to quit their jobs, then cash payments wouldn’t cut poverty by as much as they initially seem to.

Luckily, cash doesn’t seem to discourage work to that degree. In 2019, a group of economists and sociologists specializing in child poverty put together a major report for the National Academy of Sciences, and their estimate based on the research literature was that a cash benefit of $3,000 per year for all but the richest children would reduce work effort by about 1.15 hours a week on average — a fairly trivial amount that barely changes the antipoverty impact of such a program.

The effects of stimulus checks to adults, like those pursued in the past year, are surely different, but the evidence generally suggests that work disincentive effects of cash are small. University of Pennsylvania economist Ioana Marinescu, in a wide-ranging review of the effects of cash programs, concluded, “Our fear that people will quit their jobs en masse if provided with cash for free is false and misguided.””

“The US has been sending out a lot of cash during the pandemic. But that’s almost certainly coming to an end. The enhanced child tax credit is a policy many Democrats want to make permanent, or at least (as the Biden administration has proposed) extend for several more years. But the $1,200 and $600 and $1,400 stimulus checks were emergency measures, as were the $300/$600 weekly unemployment supplements.

All that implies that in 2022, when those measures are gone, poverty is likely to shoot back up again, even in a strong economy with robust job growth.”

Why a Debt Relief Program for Farmers Matters for Racial Equity in America

“In March, when Congress passed its $1.9 trillion Covid-19 stimulus package, the legislation included a $4 billion loan forgiveness program targeted at Black and other minority farmers. Based on strong evidence that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had perennially discriminated against certain groups, placing them at much higher risk of foreclosure than white farmers, the program offered a one-time emergency payout to alleviate debt for what it called “socially disadvantaged” farmers.

The policy represented a worthy and long-overdue attempt to redress historic and ongoing discrimination by USDA. But now the program is under legal siege.

Over the past few months, white farmers and ranchers have filed about a dozen lawsuits against USDA, alleging that they were victims of racial discrimination because, unlike several minority groups, white people did not automatically qualify for the emergency debt relief. While the lawsuits have been filed in multiple states, a class action has been certified in a case in Texas, where five farmers sued with backing from Stephen Miller, President Donald Trump’s former adviser. To the chagrin of Black and other minority farmers long awaiting relief, several federal courts have issued temporary injunctions blocking payments while these cases are decided.

Now, the Biden administration must decide whether to soldier on in court to defend the program or seek legislative fixes to inoculate it from legal challenges.”

“In the near term, the results of the white farmers’ lawsuits could have a significant impact on farmers of color across the country. In particular, without relief payments that USDA was supposed to begin distributing this summer, some Black-owned farms inevitably will collapse”

Broadway Hit Hamilton Could Get Up to $50 Million Federal Bailout

“That’s the problem with almost all government bail-out schemes. You gotta be in the room where it happens—metaphorically, at least. Successful businesses will always have an advantage over those who lack the lobbyists, name recognition, or culture cachet required to cash in.

On the other hand, the federal government’s firehose of COVID relief spending—$5.9 trillion and counting—means it is easier than ever to get bailed out. So far, the government has responded to the pandemic by sending money to people who earn six-figure paychecks, paying fully vaccinated people not to work even though there are millions of available jobs, bailing out state governments that are running huge surpluses, and using the pandemic as cover for a massive bailout of union-run pension funds, among other things.

Like with Hamilton, there doesn’t seem to be any consideration of when or how much government aid is necessary. We’ve pumped so much money into the system—nearly all of it borrowed and added to the country’s long-term debt problems—and it has to go somewhere.

Did a bunch of fake celebrities whose only claim to fame is being former contestants on The Bachelor need the federal government to dump as much as $20,000 apiece into their bank accounts? Nope, but they got the cash anyway, according to data gathered by ProPublica and reported in a variety of media outlets.”

The Federal Government Has Spent $46 Billion on Emergency Rental Assistance. The Rollout Has Been a Hot Mess.

“Throughout the pandemic, the median view of good housing policy—supported by landlord associations, tenant advocates, and policy wonks of all ideological stripes—has been to have the federal government fund rent relief. That way, the providers of rental housing can pay their bills, and financially pressed renters aren’t forced onto the streets or into more crowded living situations.

Despite these funds being appropriated for rent relief programs, actually getting money to people continues to be a major challenge.”