How much federal aid has flowed into Tampa Bay since the start of the coronavirus pandemic?
It’s a hard question to answer. Since the United States government started passing $5 trillion worth of pandemic relief and stimulus packages in March 2020, agencies have made attempts to show where that money is going. Some have done better than others, delivering online trackers and data listing specific awards. Others haven’t publicly reported much of anything (which in many cases can be chalked up to the fact that at least $1.5 trillion in relief money has yet to be allocated).
The federal government has a relief tracker at USAspending.gov that lists $14.4 billion worth of spending across Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties. But that doesn’t include massive expenditures like unemployment assistance and many federal contracts, and lags in reporting mean some awards aren’t yet tallied.
To get a fuller picture of Tampa Bay’s federal pandemic haul, we combed through the nation’s three biggest stimulus and relief packages — March 2020′s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (or CARES) Act; December’s Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act; and March 2021’s American Rescue Plan — then went to some of the departments tasked with distributing the most money. Some of their spending trackers go into far more detail than USAspending.gov. Others provided spreadsheets filled with millions of lines of data, from which we sifted Tampa Bay’s share.
Our best — yet still incomplete — estimate: $38.7 billion. Here’s how we got there. (All totals are as of Oct. 22.)
Cities and counties: The CARES Act and American Rescue Plan earmarked money for cities and counties, either directly or for states to pass down as they saw fit. Between them, an estimated $2.2 billion has been allocated for dozens of Tampa Bay governments, according to state, federal and city-level data. That money is being spent in a variety of ways: virus mitigation, vaccine distribution, housing assistance, workforce training, small business development, grants for frontline workers and more.
Small businesses: At least $10.1 billion flowed into Tampa Bay through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which offered forgivable loans to qualifying small businesses. (The Tampa Bay Times and related companies received a loan worth $8.5 million.) The regional banks headquartered in Tampa Bay that processed those loans, and other loans around the country, earned $225.6 million in fees. And the U.S. Small Business Administration’s targeted Economic Injury Disaster Loans brought in $3.4 billion more. Grand total: $13.7 billion.
Education: Between the three packages, Tampa Bay’s K-12 school systems, colleges, universities and trade schools have been or expect to be allocated more than $3 billion, according to the Department of Education’s spending tracker and state and local district estimates. (Many private schools also received Paycheck Protection Program loans.) That’s likely low by hundreds of millions. It doesn’t include money flowing into individual counties via statewide educational or child care programs. And it doesn’t factor in some $2 billion in Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer funding for 2.7 million children eligible for free or reduced meals last year and this year.
Health care: The Department of Health and Human Services has chronicled some $280 billion allocated to hundreds of thousands of recipients, including health care providers and companies and the uninsured, to compensate them for added costs associated with testing for, treating and vaccinating against COVID-19; and losses chalked up to delayed treatments like elective surgeries. A rough sum for Tampa Bay: $1.4 billion and counting.
Housing: Bill by bill, Tampa Bay has been allocated blocks of federal housing and rent relief: $27.8 million from a state tranche funded by the CARES Act; $246.7 million in rental assistance from the December bill and American Rescue Plan; $131.3 million in grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Many more millions are expected through programs that haven’t rolled out, but for now, that’s $420.4 million.
Leisure and hospitality: Two targeted relief programs, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and Shuttered Venue Operator Grants, were aimed at hard-hit hospitality and entertainment industries. The two programs were slow to roll out, but have brought $341.4 million into Tampa Bay.
Transportation: Regional airports received $244.6 million to offset the enormous hit taken by the air travel industry, while transit authorities got $160.6 million in supplemental funding “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to” the pandemic, according to U.S. Department of Transportation guidelines. That’s another $405.2 million.
Federal contracts: The Federal Procurement Data System has tallied at least $314.6 million in coronavirus-related contracts with businesses and other entities in Tampa Bay, with the government signing deals for everything from equipment rentals to telecom services, medical supplies to fresh fruits and vegetables. If all contract options are exercised, those deals could eventually be worth up to $526.5 million, according to the System for Award Management.
Unemployment assistance: The state Department of Employment Opportunity has paid Floridians nearly $24.5 billion in federal pandemic unemployment relief on top of regular state unemployment relief. It hasn’t publicly tracked payments by county. But the region accounts for more than a fifth of the state’s claims, according to the department — just like it accounts for more than fifth of Florida’s population. That makes a fifth of that federal relief, or $4.9 billion, a reasonable estimate.
Stimulus payments: Through the three relief packages, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sent Floridians 33 million economic impact payments worth $54.5 billion. The purpose of this money was twofold: to help struggling individuals and families make up for lost income and pay off debt; and to stimulate consumer spending to boost struggling businesses and, therefore, the economy. The Internal Revenue Service hasn’t publicly tracked those payments past the state level. But a fifth of Florida’s payout — Tampa Bay’s approximate share — would be $10.9 billion.
Child tax credits: The American Rescue Plan’s expanded child tax credit program has distributed about $15 billion per month since launching in July. Florida’s average monthly share of that has been $927.2 million. If that average holds through December, and Tampa Bay once again gets a fifth of it, that’s $1.1 billion for local parents.
That gets us up to $38.7 billion. And that’s before factoring in provisions yet to be parceled or tallied, including myriad tax benefits, mortgage relief programs, infrastructure funding and more. When counted, those funds could add billions to the total.
One thing to remember, said University of Chicago economics professor Casey Mulligan, is that this isn’t all just free money. Even grants and forgivable loans must draw money from somewhere, and that somewhere, in this case, is the federal government — an entity that most Americans pay into. In that sense, this $38.7 billion is a price we all pay.
“There’ll be taxes in the future, or less government spending in the future, and that’ll be a burden that Tampa shares in with the rest of the nation,” Mulligan said. “We’re doing redistribution to help the people harmed the most, but it’s a redistribution. It’s not making the pie any bigger.”