We the Partnership

Congress enacted the first coronavirus relief bill one year ago. How has the money been spent?

By Regina Parra
April 21, 2021

March 27, 2021 marked the one-year anniversary of Congress passing the CARES Act, the nation’s first coronavirus relief bill. To examine how the relief funds were used, the Partnership for Public Service co-organized a virtual event called “CARES Act One Year Later” with the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. The group oversees how COVID-19 relief funds get used and works to prevent businesses and institutions from misusing coronavirus rescue money. 

The new law provided emergency assistance to individuals, families and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the event, Michael Horowitz, the chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, noted that the coronavirus relief funds “did get to the places where [they were] intended to go” on the whole.

For example, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, noted that CARES Act funds enabled the CDC to study COVID-19 variants, coordinate vaccine administration and increase states’ capacity to report electronic COVID-19 lab data to break down long-standing silos in data sharing. Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Administration, added that emergency funds enabled public health organizations to properly equip their workforces with personnel and technology infrastructure to not only address the current crisis, but also to continue to prevent and manage upcoming health emergencies.

The virtual event also featured taped remarks from members of Congress and lively discussions from several other expert panelists. The Successes and Challenges of Pandemic Oversight panel explained that robust oversight has been critical to pandemic response because it ensures that agencies have the tools and resources needed to conduct their programs. Another panel, The Economic Impact of Pandemic Spending and Response, examined COVID-19’s devastating effects on the economy and encouraged a more targeted coronavirus relief strategy that would help underserved communities achieve long-term economic stability.

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee aims to recover misused taxpayer money and ensure that recommendations, issued by the inspectors general community and the Government Accountability Office, get implemented to improve delivery of agency services. Overall, Horowitz assured the public that the oversight community had flagged and identified “where the money was stolen, defrauded or misused.”

The Partnership believes that emergency legislation is only the first step toward ensuring a more prosperous post-pandemic future for our country. The $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill—plus the second relief package, the American Rescue Plan—add up to more than five trillion taxpayer dollars designed to support pandemic recovery efforts. The current crisis provides government with an opportunity to reimagine how our financial systems should operate and what our social institutions should look like.

By organizing these types of panel discussions, we hope to promote government transparency, encourage the people in this country to stay informed about our pandemic relief efforts and hold federal officials accountable for using taxpayer dollars to support the public good. To learn more, please visit the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee’s website.


Regina Parra