$350 Billion in Pandemic Aid to Build … Golf Courses?

$350 Billion in Pandemic Aid to Build … Golf Courses?

© French Lick Resort

Congress has provided state and local governments with about $350 billion to help them navigate the coronavirus crisis, but according to The Washington Post’s Tony Romm, the money is sometimes being used in surprising and perhaps questionable ways.

A wealthy town in coastal Florida, for example, is spending $2 million in federal aid to help build a golf course – in an area that already has more than 150 of them.

In other examples cited by Romm, North Dakota is using $150 million in federal pandemic aid to help build a gas pipeline, Alabama is spending $400 million to rebuild a prison, and Indiana will put $3 million toward the expansion of the Fort Wayne International Airport.

Do we have a problem? At first glance, the use of federal relief funds for things like golf courses seems deeply problematic. In general, the money provided by Congress was intended to be used for important initiatives related to the pandemic, such as vaccinations, the purchase of medical equipment, and the support of local school budgets, and a golf course is a long way from a hospital or fire station.

But Congress put few restrictions on the use of the funds, opting to allow state and local officials to spend the money as they see fit. And some of the funds were meant to be used to help prop up local economies, which in sunny Florida might include the construction of yet another golf course.

“What’s a good and bad use of money? It’s not really clear,” Marc Goldwein of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget told Romm.

Defending the fiscal firehose: White House economic adviser Gene Sperling, who is overseeing the enactment of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, said the federal aid has played a crucial role in softening the blow of the pandemic. It has given “state and localities the fiscal fire power and flexibility to deal both with immediate crisis as well as continuing disruptions and lingering impacts that could hamper a full, durable and equitable recovery,” Sperling said.

“These funds were meant to ensure that unlike the post-Great Recession recovery — where Congress later refused to add more state and local resources — we would see state and local governments adding to growth and jobs, instead of being a major source of austerity, job loss and barrier to stronger growth,” Sperling added.