Since March 2020, Congress has allocated $178 billion to the COVID-19 Provider Relief Fund. Established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the fund was meant to help providers “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus” and to “reimburse…eligible health care providers for health care related expenses or lost revenues that are attributable to coronavirus.” From the outset, the fund has faced sharp criticism. In this brief, we use the most recent publicly available information to update our earlier work and review how fund grants have been allocated into general and targeted distributions and paid to providers meeting the specified criteria. We find that more than a year and a half after Congress first approved provider relief funding, billions of fund dollars have yet to be spent. Specifically, we estimate $7.1 billion remains unallocated as of October 2021. As of May 31, 2021 (the latest publicly available data), $19.7 billion had been allocated to a particular distribution category but had yet to be disbursed to eligible providers, including $8 billion in grants that providers had returned because they did not need them. All told, we estimate $26.8 billion remains in the fund as of October 2021. In addition, the fund balance will likely grow soon, because some providers will need to return unspent grants, as required under recent guidance issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
As of this writing, the US continues to face large numbers of COVID-19 cases. Given greater understanding of how providers have used (or returned) provider relief funds and improved knowledge about how to treat patients with COVID-19, policymakers have an opportunity to consider how best to target remaining relief funds to health care providers who were hardest hit by the pandemic and continue to have the greatest needs.