A long-rumored “second stimulus” check of $600 was announced on December 21 2020 and widely deemed to be paltry to the point of insulting; not long after that, a screengrab of a chart labeled “Stimulus Pork” began spreading on Facebook, Twitter, Parler, and TheDonald.win:
‘Stimulus Pork,’ Transcribed
There was no source for the widely-shared screenshot on any of the variations that we could find. The list read:
Domestic Funding (Header)
∇ Kennedy Center — $26,400,000
∇ Smithsonian — $1,000,000,000
∇ Natnl Art Gallery — $154,000,000
∇ Natnl Art & Humanities — $167,000,000
∇ W. Wilson Center — $14,000,000
Foreign Countries (Header)
∇ Egypt — $1,300,000,000
∇ Sudan — $700,000,000
∇ Ukraine — $453,000,000
∇ [Israel] — $500,000,000
∇ Nepal — $130,000,000
∇ Burma –$135,000,000
∇ Cambodia — $85,500,000
∇ Pakistan — $25,000,000
∇ Asia R.I.A. — $1,400,000,000
American People (Header)
∇ Citizens — $600
Totals per header were:
- Domestic Funding: $1,361,400,000 (or $1.3 billion, with $1,000,000,000 purportedly going to the Smithsonian, and the $360,000,000 balance going to primarily arts organizations);
- Foreign Countries: $4,728,500,000 (or $4.7 billion);
- American Citizens: $600 (or six hundred dollars).
Even if the list was accurate, the units of measurement were off. Organizations were grouped and their sum total provided, and countries under “foreign aid” were also grouped with a large sum. But the third header, “American Citizens,” listed the amount per individual within the United States — $600; although there are roughly 327,000,000 Americans, not all would qualify for the $600 stimulus or the $500 child credit.
Between the $1.3 billion in purported “Domestic Funding” and $4.7 billion under “Foreign Countries,” the total spending in the first two columns was $6,089,900,000, or roughly $6 billion.
How Many Americans Qualify for Second Stimulus Payments, and What Would the Total Disbursed in Seconds Stimulus Checks Be?
Calculating a ballpark total for “American Citizens” for the “Stimulus Pork” chart would necessitate knowing roughly how many Americans would receive a second stimulus check.
According to the Washington Post, still fewer people qualify for the checks than before:
How many Americans will get these payments?
About 160 million people received a payment in the first round of stimulus checks. This time, about 158 million are expected to receive a payment, estimated Kyle Pomerleau, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who specializes in tax policy. Because not as many will qualify for partial payments, slightly fewer people get a payment this time.
Unlike the first round of stimulus payments during which parents of dependent children aged 16 and under received a credit of $500 per child, credits rose to $600 per dependent child in round two. For purposes of simplicity, we will assume that 158,000,000 Americans received $600.
158,000,000 Americans multiplied by $600 per check equals $94,800,000,000 — 94.8 billion dollars total, or 94 billion, 800 million dollars.
For the chart to be accurately proportioned in the “American Citizens” part alone, the $600 figure should have been $94.8 billion.
Moreover, the chart’s proportions were immediately changed; “American Citizens” were receiving $94.8 billion, whereas $4.7 billion was being sent overseas to “Foreign Countries,” and another $1.7 billion was being purportedly disbursed to arts organizations.
Are the ‘Stimulus Pork’ Totals Correct with Respect to $500 Million for Israel, and Billions in Foreign Aid?
So popular was discourse about purported foreign aid in the “second stimulus” deal that Twitter highlighted it as an “event,” alongside the following blurb:
$2.3 trillion government funding package includes foreign aid but the $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus bill does not, journalists report
The $900 billion COVID-19 relief deal that Congress approved after months of negotiations is one bill among many included in the $2.3 trillion year-end government funding package. Along with the COVID-19 relief stimulus bill, the package includes a $1.4 trillion omnibus bill which will fund defense spending and domestic programs, The Hill reports.
After an excerpt of the spending package referring to foreign aid for Israel started circulating online, journalists from Tablet Mag and MSNBC and others reported the foreign aid is part of the year-end funding package but is not part of the COVID-19 stimulus package.
Separate from the “Stimulus Pork” image was a viral tweet by cartoonist and writer Walter Bragman, who claimed that the December 2020 stimulus bill “contains $500,000,000 for Israel”:
The new COVID relief bill contains $500,000,000 for Israel. pic.twitter.com/oWJlLm1MzC
— Walker Bragman (@WalkerBragman) December 21, 2020
Tablet‘s Yair Rosenberg retweeted Bragman, stating that the bill did not contain $500 million for Israel, but that a “suite of bills” had been passed:
NARRATOR: The Covid relief bill did not, in fact, contain $500 million for Israel. Congress passed a suite of bills, including Covid relief *and* the bill funding the Defense Department for 2021, which includes foreign aid. This isn't hard unless you know nothing about Congress. https://t.co/Y558nnKcf2
— Yair Rosenberg (@Yair_Rosenberg) December 21, 2020
As did MSNBC’s Hayes Brown:
Context: the relief bill is attached to the bill that funds the government for the rest of the year. So yes this money is being spent, no it’s not part of the deal that was finally worked out https://t.co/ph9EBUvGcO
— Hayes Brown (@HayesBrown) December 21, 2020
Brown said “yes this money is being spent, no it’s not part of the deal that was finally worked out.” Former National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) advisor Matt Whitlock chimed in to say that “this is a year-end spending bill with a COVID relief bill attached to it”:
A lot of confusion about non-COVID priorities in this bill. Important to note that this is a year-end spending bill with a COVID relief bill attached to it.
(Walker noted this in his thread)
It's *NOT* like when Pelosi had a trillion in non-COVID priorities in a COVID bill. https://t.co/yK3r6FQLNa
— Matt Whitlock (@mattdizwhitlock) December 21, 2020
Similar discourse emerged on Reddit on December 21 2020, in a thread titled “Anti-semites aren’t going to like this”:
But yet another one of their anti-semitic conspiracy theories has been debunked..
On the list of countries getting aid in the government budget Israel is nowhere NEAR the top
1.75b for the border wall
Asia RIA: $1.4 billion
Egypt: $1.3 billion
$1.2 billion to the un
Sudan: $700 million
Israel: $500 million
Ukraine: $453 million
Nepal: $130 million
Burma: $135 million
Cambodia: $85.5 million
Pakistan: $25 million
So I guess they can no longer use funding for [their] anti-semitism.. Because t got a whole list of countries to complain about before they even get close to Israel lol.. unless [they] want to admit that it was never about the mone[y.]
Bills, Bills, Bills
Many Twitter users linked to a December 21 2020 Politico item they claimed explained the “suite of bills” passed on or around December 21 2020 as part of a bipartisan deal — here’s the portion relevant to the second stimulus bill:
CONGRESS STRIKES SPENDING AND STIMULUS DEAL: Congressional leaders on [December 20 2020] clinched a deal for a new $900 billion round of coronavirus stimulus, which will be included in a year-end spending package, POLITICO’s Burgess Everett, Andrew Desiderio, Melanie Zanona and Heather Caygle report.
“But with legislative text still yet to be released, a House vote on final passage has slipped to [December 21 2020], House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer informed House Democrats on a private conference call. The Senate is expected to take up the bill quickly afterward, though [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell declined to offer a timeline.”
Shutdown averted (again): Lawmakers still need more time to pass the legislation to fully fund the government and provide relief to Americans affected by the pandemic. The House and Senate cleared a one-day continuing resolution to keep the government funded through midnight. And the House will consider another weeklong spending patch [on December 21 2020] to buy time for the Senate to pass the omnibus and for the bill to be formally finalized for Trump’s signature.
What’s in the omnibus and stimulus (and what’s not): The $1.4 trillion spending package, which will include full-year Pentagon funding, doesn’t include a waiver for retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to serve as defense secretary in the Biden administration, according to Senate Majority Whip John Thune.
That Politico link was a round-up of Politico’s “defense policy and politics” reporting as of 10 AM on December 21 2020. One linked item was published on the morning of December 20 2020 (updated 12 hours later), reporting:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced [the evening of December 20 2020] that negotiators had finalized a $900 billion coronavirus aid package, after breaking a multi-day stalemate over the Federal Reserve’s lending powers.
Though the Fed feud dominated the past 48 hours, the crux of the package remains the same: a $300 boost in weekly unemployment benefits for 11 weeks through March 14 , $600 relief checks for adults and children, more than $300 billion for small business aid and huge pots of money for schools, hospitals and vaccine distribution.
None of the “Domestic Funding” or “Foreign Countries” line items appeared in that reporting. A second linked article began:
Congressional leaders on Monday [December 21 2020] unveiled the text of a $900 billion fiscal stimulus package and a $1.4 trillion government funding deal that will deliver critical pandemic aid to millions of Americans and pad federal agency budgets through next September .
The colossal year-end package — approved by the House and then the Senate on Monday night [December 21 2020] — will provide another round of direct payments, enhanced unemployment benefits and billions of dollars for struggling industries in what still amounts to a less generous package than the $3 trillion response mounted at the beginning of the pandemic. Unemployment benefits expire in mid-March, likely setting up another deadline for additional congressional action early next year .
“Foreign Countries” did not get a mention, but one organization mentioned under “Domestic Funding” (the Smithsonian) did:
A nod to new museums
The legislation authorizes a Smithsonian Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino on or near the National Mall after Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) blocked bipartisan legislation earlier this month [December 2002] that would establish the museums.
On December 22 2020, CNN‘s “Here’s what’s in the second stimulus package” addressed specific pandemic-related provisions, but it did not mention funding for foreign aid or the extensive domestic arts organization spending on the viral list:
Grants for theaters and other live venues
The bill would create a $15 billion grant program for live venues, theaters and museum operators that have lost at least 25% of their revenues.
The initial grant can total up to $10 million per eligible business. A second grant, worth half the amount of the first, may also be available.
The money will be for specified expenses such as payroll costs, rent, utilities and personal protective equipment.
During the first 14 days of the program’s implementation, grants will be awarded to those who have faced 90% revenue losses. Then, those who have experienced at least 70% revenue losses will be eligible during the next two weeks. After the first month of the program, any other eligible businesses can receive grants.
A second CNN.com page (“READ: Text of the new $900 billion stimulus bill”) had a 5,593 page-long document embedded; its header read:
DECEMBER 21, 2020
RULES COMMITTEE PRINT 116–68
TEXT OF THE HOUSE AMENDMENT TO THE SENATE AMENDMENT TO H.R. 133
[Showing the text of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021]
Page 1,462 of the bill mentioned $134,950,000 in aid for Myanmar (Burma), roughly equivalent to the amount on the list. $453,000,000 was allocated for Ukraine — heavily suggesting the “Stimulus Pork” list was derived from this particular bill.
According to CNN, the text of “the new $900 billion stimulus bill” passed on December 21 2021 was the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. In other words, the bill in question was 2021’s “omnibus spending bill” with a $900 billion stimulus package attached. Social media discourse appeared to invert the bill’s intended purpose, viewing it as a stimulus bill with “stimulus pork” attached.
On the page, under “Provisions” and after pandemic relief, sections explained portions of the 2021 omnibus:
The regular annual appropriations bills comprise Divisions A through L of the bill, and totals about $1.4 trillion. Among these provisions are:
- $1.375 billion for the Mexico-United States border wall;
- $5 million for the creation of a database to track police misconduct;
- Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions[.]
Divisions O through Z and AA through FF contains approximately 3,000 pages of additional, unrelated legislation. Because the end of the congressional term is near, Congress likes to add on miscellaneous bills to the omnibus spending bill, which they refer to as “loading up the Christmas tree”.
What is ‘Asia R.I.A. in the Stimulus Package?
A side thread of the “stimulus pork” discourse was confusion over a mention of “Asia R.I.A” as it appeared on the meme:
Can someone please tell us who is Asia R.I.A., and why are they getting 1.4 Billion of our American Tax Dollars?
— Diamond and Silk® (@DiamondandSilk) December 22, 2020
On page 1,467 of the bill linked below, a section was titled “Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act oF 2018.”
In this context, “Asia R.I.A.” or “Asia RIA” referred to that particular section, and indicated that of the “funds appropriated under titles III and IV of this Act, not less than $1,482,000,000 shall be made available to support implementation of the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018 (Public Law 12 115–409).”
Is the ‘Stimulus Pork’ Meme Accurate?
A viral “Stimulus Pork” chart spread on December 22 2020, claiming that hundreds of millions or more than a billion dollars in allocations in the long-awaited second stimulus deal were allocated to “Foreign Countries” or for non-emergency “Domestic Spending” — a purported $500,000,000 for Israel in particular led to social media outrage. However, the outrage was (if not misplaced) imprecise. The bill passed on December 21 2020 was the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act, with an attached provision for stimulus-related spending (and the $500 or $600 stimulus checks).
A structural inaccuracy involved “American Citizens” and $600, when other budget lines were combined — 158 million Americans were expected to receive a $600 check, which very roughly amounted to $94,800,000,000 or 94.8 billion dollars. The balance of appropriations listed appeared to be part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, i.e. normal fiscal year spending, and those amounts were not allocated as part of the stimulus portion.