What you need to know
- The COVID-19 funds clawback doesn’t seem like it will have a big impact on funding for our top COVID-19 priorities.
- About $13 billion of unspent funds will stay in place, mostly for investing in next-generation vaccines, testing capacity, and long COVID research.
- With the COVID-19 public health emergency over, the virus is now another health topic that needs to be budgeted for.
On June 3, President Joe Biden signed a debt-ceiling deal that included the clawback of $27 billion in unspent pandemic relief funds. There are still many questions around where the funds are being taken from and how they will be used. Below, we cover what we know so far about the COVID-19 funds clawback and its potential impact.
Why are COVID-19 funds being clawed back?
Since the pandemic began, the federal government has distributed $4.6 trillion to different agencies and organizations in pandemic relief funds. More than $4.2 trillion of that money had already been spent as of January 2023. Now, as part of the debt-ceiling deal struck between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the government has decided to take back some of the unused COVID-19 money and redistribute it to other areas of the federal budget. According to the White House, some of the clawed-back money will be used to support nondefense spending.
Where are the funds being taken from?
In total, the government is clawing back around $27 billion of unspent COVID-19 funds. The funds are being taken from a mix of agencies and pandemic-era programs. About half of the funds seem to be coming from programs that aren’t directly related to combating the virus itself, such as pandemic-era programs for unemployment insurance, highway infrastructure, and the food system. Some of the unspent funds are being taken from programs that have already ended or where there are no immediate needs.
What does the clawback mean for access to tests, vaccines, and treatments?
Based on what we know so far, the clawback doesn’t seem like it will have a big impact on funding for our top COVID-19 priorities. About $13 billion of unspent COVID-19 funds will stay in place, mostly for investing in next-generation vaccines, testing capacity, long COVID research, and other critical needs. This means that previous promises to invest in better vaccines and treatments and ensure equitable access to COVID-19 care are not being compromised. Unspent funds will also remain in place for some select programs, such as veteran health benefits, the Indian Health Service, and low-income rental assistance.
Does this mean the federal government will no longer allocate money for COVID-19?
Now that the COVID-19 public health emergency is over, there likely won’t be any more special funding for the virus like the $4.6 trillion provided over the last three years. COVID-19 is now another health topic that needs to be budgeted for. It’s still unclear what this means exactly and what funds will be available to deal with COVID-19 in the coming years, but we do know that the Department of Health and Human Services has committed $1.1 billion to maintaining COVID-19 care for uninsured Americans and $5 billion for developing new COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.