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The Federal Response To COVID-19

How is the federal government funding relief efforts for COVID-19?

Data Lab explores how supplemental funding for COVID-19 makes its way from Congress into the economy. We break down the steps taken by federal agencies to use the $2.59 trillion and track the status of funds so you can see how much has been spent.

What types of financial relief is the government providing?

To aid the nation’s recovery from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the U.S. Congress passed four special appropriations laws for the federal government to use in relief efforts. The largest of these was the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides approximately $2.08 trillion and is the largest supplemental appropriation in American history.

In this analysis, we explore the four COVID-19 supplemental appropriation laws passed by the U.S. Congress, starting with the amount of funding budgeted for agencies and how that money can provide financial relief. Next, we walk through the process of how the money moves from appropriations to individuals and businesses, and finally, we dive into how agencies are spending the money.

A Breakdown of COVID-19 Financial Relief

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As of October 1, 2020, roughly $2.59 trillion in new budgetary resources have been made available for federal agencies to respond to the pandemic. Agencies can use this funding for contracts, grants, loans, and other assistance, as well as direct payments like the Economic Impact Payments (EIP) appropriated in Phase 3.

Bar chart of new agency funding through the four phases of COVID-19 appropriations, the largest funding coming from Phase 3 and the CARES Act.
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In addition to granting new agency funding, the legislation also mandated the government defer and reduce taxes to provide relief to individuals and businesses. As an example, this includes payroll tax deferrals, which means companies can postpone the deposit and payment of the employer’s share of Social Security taxes. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the two-year impact will be over $902 billion in tax relief.

Bar chart of the total estimated value of legislation ($3.49T), which include New Agency Funding ($2.59T) and Tax Relief ($902B).
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The four laws included funding for credit, loans and loan guarantee programs, which could result in an estimated total of $3.92 trillion in total lending. As of October 1, 2020, $833 billion in credit, loans and loan guarantees have been reported. New funding provided by these appropriations made close to $4 trillion in potential estimated lending possible.1

Bar chart showing total potential lending ($3.92T) broken down by utilized lending ($833B) and unused lending ($3.08T).
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The CARES Act and other supplemental legislation are providing financial relief in response to the pandemic through agency funding, tax deferrals, and lending. While the total impact of this legislation may not be measured until years from now, agencies are already playing a critical role by disbursing the $2.59 trillion in funding allocated through the appropriations process. Next, we look at the process of how funds are spent, from congressional appropriations to payments to individuals and businesses.

Updated as of October 2020 /
The Flow of Funds
How do federal dollars move from Congress to the American people?

There are many steps in the process to move the $2.59 trillion in supplemental funds through the full budget lifecycle to the American people. In this section, we follow the flow of money by breaking down a few key terms and explaining how agencies spend supplemental funding.

After a special appropriations law passes, it is the role of the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) to review the new legislation and issue funds to agencies’ spending accounts. The appropriations process gives agencies the authority to begin using funding according to the purpose assigned in the law. To spend the money, agencies obligate the funds to different programs through contracts, direct payments, grants, or loans. When agencies make an obligation, they create a binding agreement to use the funds for a particular purpose. An example of an obligation is an agency setting aside adequate funds when it enters into a contract with a vendor to purchase personal protective equipment, such as masks.

Creating an obligation doesn’t mean the money has been paid, only that the agency has promised to pay the funds. In many cases, the recipients of funds may be required to do something before receiving payment, such as delivering equipment or supplies.

The final step in the process is making a payment, which is called an outlay. This is the step where the agencies authorize the Treasury to issue a payment to individuals, businesses, or other organizations.

The Process of COVID-19 Supplemental Spending

After an appropriations law is passed, the Treasury issues funds to specific agency spending accounts.
Process flow diagram of COVID-19 supplemental funding, from appropriations to obligations, and ending with outlays.
Federal agencies obligate funds towards contracts, loans, grants, direct payments, and other financial assistance.
Process flow diagram of COVID-19 supplemental funding, from appropriations to obligations, and ending with outlays.
Federal agencies authorize payments, called outlays, denoting that the money has been paid.
Process flow diagram of COVID-19 supplemental funding, from appropriations to obligations, and ending with outlays.
Tracking Spending
How much supplemental funding has been spent?

Ninety percent of the $2.59 trillion in COVID-19 funding was appropriated to four agencies: Department of the Treasury, Department of Health & Human Services, Department of Labor, and the Small Business Administration (SBA). Of those funds, roughly half, or $1.27 trillion, were allocated to fund loan and loan guarantee programs. These funds could be used to generate an estimated $3.92 trillion in loans and loan guarantees to businesses and individuals. This includes loans which will be disbursed directly by the government, like the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program. It also includes funds for loan guarantee programs, such as the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which are disbursed by partner financial institutions.

As of October 1, the federal government had made $1.79 trillion in obligations, of which $1.62 trillion was outlayed. These totals were calculated from agencies’ certified monthly reporting to the Treasury’s Governmentwide Treasury Account Symbol Adjusted Trial Balance System (GTAS).

Data in this analysis is reflective of Fiscal Year 2020. The Data Lab team is working on updating data from the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (PL 116-260) as well as Fiscal Year 2021. Data will be published when it is ready. To learn more about how we developed this analysis and download the raw data, visit the Data Sources and Methodologies page.

Progress of COVID-19 Spending


  • Click or tap on any bar graph label in this visualization to see the breakdown of obligations and outlays for each phase by agency.
  • To see details about the law for each phase, click or tap on Law Summary.
  • To exit the pop-up, click or tap the X.
Data updated as of October 1, 2020
UnobligatedGroupLoan Account Spending
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New Agency Funding
Horizontal stacked bar chart of total budgetary resources from the supplemental funding that have been obligated and outlayed ($1.62T) to date.
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Phase 1: Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020
Enacted March 6, 2020|Law Summary
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Phase 2: Families First Coronavirus Response Act
Enacted March 18, 2020|Law Summary
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Phase 3: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES ACT)
Enacted March 27, 2020|Law Summary
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Phase 3.5: Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act
Enacted April 24, 2020|Law Summary

Continue exploring COVID-19 spending data by visiting

Updated as of October 2020 /
On December 31, 2020 the emergency lending programs expired, and the Federal Reserve Bank returned unobligated funds to the U.S. Treasury.
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