How raising the nation’s debt limit could reduce spending of some coronavirus relief funds

May 23, 2023, 1:28 PM

With the pandemic officially over, leftover coronavirus relief money for vaccines, public health initiatives and other programs has become a target as negotiators try to reach a budget deal to raise the nation’s debt limit.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that $30 billion of pandemic-related spending could be canceled. That’s just a tiny fraction of the $4.6 trillion authorized under a series of pandemic relief laws enacted under Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

What’s in jeopardy is the COVID relief money that hasn’t yet been committed — or obligated in government parlance — to specific recipients. House Republicans voted last month to rescind those funds as part of their debt limit bill, which has served as their starting point for talks with the White House.

The potential cuts would spare one of the more prominent portions of the 2021 American Rescue Plan. That’s because the Treasury Department already has distributed nearly all of the $350 billion of flexible aid for states, territories and local governments.

Several smaller programs contained in that same law — including one that helps schools and libraries connect people to the internet — could lose funds that have not yet been committed to particular projects.


Republican debt-limit proposals to trim federal spending target six coronavirus relief laws passed by Congress in 2020 and 2021. Collectively, those laws provided about $4.6 trillion for pandemic response and recovery efforts. Some of that went to things directly associated with the virus outbreak, such as vaccines, COVID-19 test kits, public health expenses and stockpiles of masks and other personal protective equipment.

Other funds went to offset the economic and social effects of the pandemic, including aid to the unemployed and homeless and assistance for schools that had to shift to online instruction or take extra classroom precautions. Still other funds were designated for state and local governments to offset their lost revenues or finance programs, services and projects.

With the expiration of the nation’s public health emergency, Republicans contend it’s time to claw back leftover pandemic-era funds. Biden appears likely to go along with that.

“If the money was authorized to fight the pandemic but was not spent during the pandemic, it should not be spent after the pandemic is over,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said while introducing the GOP’s debt-limit package last month.


The Congressional Budget Office estimates that halting the use of unobligated pandemic relief funds would result in a net spending reduction of $30 billion over the next decade.

The CBO said much of the reduction could come from public health, infrastructure, rental assistance, community development and disaster relief programs. But it did not provide estimates of how much could be lost for specific programs.

Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee provided their own estimates of pandemic relief funds that could be cut, including billions of unobligated dollars for vaccines, health care providers and public health initiatives.

One program that could face cuts is the Emergency Communications Fund run by the Federal Communications Commission. The nearly $7.2 billion program provides money for schools and libraries to buy laptop or tablet computers, wi-fi hotspots, modems, routers and broadband connection services for use by students, school staff and library patrons.

Data provided by the FCC indicates that about $6.7 billion had been committed to projects as of May. If the remaining funds are pulled back, additional applications might not be approved.


Some local government officials initially had concerns that debt-limit spending cuts could claw back billions of unspent dollars authorized under the American Rescue Plan. Governments of all sizes — from the tiniest villages to largest states — got a share of $350 billion to use as they choose for dozens of potential purposes, including to cover public health costs, plug budget holes or finance water, sewer and high-speed internet projects.

Treasury Department rules require recipients to obligate those funds for particular purposes by the end of 2024 and to spend the money by the end of 2026.

Though the Treasury has already distributed the money, many state and local officials are still deciding what to do with it.

States and territories had obligated $111 billion of their total $200 billion as of the end of 2022, according to an Associated Press analysis of the most recent data available from the Treasury. Counties and cities that received at least $10 million had obligated about 45% of their cumulative $100 billion as of the end of last year, the AP found. Similar data was not available for smaller local governments.

The National League of Cities warned last month that rescinding unobligated funds could jeopardize local investments in public safety, infrastructure and other community priorities. But legislative director Mike Gleeson said the league no longer has concerns, because federal officials confirmed that funds already distributed by the Treasury cannot be taken back.

United States News

Associated Press

15 people suffer minor injuries in tram accident at Universal Studios theme park in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A tram accident at Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles injured 15 people Saturday night, authorities and the company said. Los Angeles County Fire Department units were dipatched to the theme park on Lankershim Boulevard shortly after 9 p.m., the department said in a social media post. The victims taken to […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

8 shot including 2 men killed at a party with hundreds attending in Memphis park, police say

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Eight people were shot including two men who were killed at an unsanctioned public party in a Memphis city park Saturday night, police said. Officers responded at 7:19 p.m. to a reported shooting, Memphis Police Department Chief Cerelyn Davis said during a news conference at the scene. Two men were pronounced […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Vehicle crashes into building where birthday party held, injuring children and adults, sheriff says

BERLIN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A vehicle drove through a boat club building where a children’s birthday celebration was taking place Saturday, seriously injuring a number of children and adults, a Michigan sheriff said in a news release. The victims were taken to several area hospitals after the crash that occurred at about 3 p.m. […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

3 hospitalized after knife attack on party boat in New York City along Brooklyn waterfront

NEW YORK (AP) — A knife attack on a crowded party boat at a New York City pier Saturday resulted in the hospitalization of three people, police said. A 911 call came in around 5 p.m. reporting the assault along the Brooklyn waterfront near 58th Street and the Brooklyn Army Terminal warehouse, NYPD Detective Sophia […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Autoworkers union celebrates breakthrough win in Tennessee and takes aim at more plants in the South

DALLAS (AP) — The United Auto Workers’ overwhelming election victory at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee is giving the union hope that it can make broader inroads in the South, the least unionized part of the country. The UAW won a stunning 73% of the vote at VW after losing elections in 2014 and 2019. […]

11 hours ago

Associated Press

Conditions improve for students shot in Maryland park on ‘senior skip day’

GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — Three of the five youths shot in a suburban Washington, D.C., park during a high school “senior skip day” gathering have been released from the hospital, while the condition of the most seriously injured has improved, authorities said Saturday. Police in Greenbelt, Maryland, are asking the public to share video footage […]

12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

How raising the nation’s debt limit could reduce spending of some coronavirus relief funds