Politics slows flow of US virus funds to local public health

Health

Medical personnel prepare a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in San Antonio. Coronavirus testing in Texas has dropped significantly, mirroring nationwide trends, just as schools reopen and football teams charge ahead with plans to play. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP)–Congress has allocated trillions of dollars to ease the coronavirus crisis.

A joint Kaiser Health News and AP investigation finds that many communities with big outbreaks have spent little of that federal money on local public health departments for work such as testing and contact tracing.

So little money has flowed to some local health departments for many reasons: Bureaucracy has bogged things down, politics have crept into the process, and understaffed departments have struggled to take time away from critical needs to navigate the red tape required to justify asking for extra dollars.

For example, the states, territories and 154 large cities and counties that received allotments from the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund reported spending only 25% of it through June 30, according to reports that recipients submitted to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Many localities have deployed more money since that June 30 reporting deadline, and both Republican and Democratic governors say they need more to avoid layoffs and cuts to vital state services. Still, as cases in the U.S. top 5.4 million and confirmed deaths soar past 170,000, Republicans in Congress are pointing to the slow spending to argue against sending more money to state and local governments to help with their pandemic response.

Negotiations over a new pandemic relief bill broke down last week, in part because Democrats and Republicans could not agree on funding for state and local governments.

KHN and the AP requested detailed spending breakdowns from recipients of money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund — created in March as part of the $1.9 trillion CARES Act — and received responses from 23 states and 62 cities and counties. Those entities dedicated 23% of their spending from the fund through June to public health and 7% to public health and safety payroll.

An additional 22% was transferred to local governments, some of which will eventually pass it down to health departments. The rest went to other priorities, such as distance learning.

You can read the full Associated Press story here.

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