Fact Check: Jen Psaki Claims ‘Florida’ Not Spending COVID Relief Properly on Schools

Jen Psaki (Chip Somodevilla / Getty)
Chip Somodevilla / Getty

CLAIM: The State of Florida is not spending money from the American Rescue Plan on school safety for coronavirus.

VERDICT: MOSTLY FALSE. Florida spent two-thirds of the money, and other states and districts had worse problems.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked by a reporter Friday to identify which states and districts have not been spending coronavirus relief money properly, a claim made repeatedly by President Joe Biden to explain the lack of tests.

Her response: “Florida.”

Not only was that untrue, but Psaki ignored several glaring cases where Democrats’ own allies in the teachers’ unions have alleged that Democrat-run cities have failed to spend money appropriately on COVID school safety.

Biden’s American Rescue Plan, signed last year, allocated $122 billion for K-12 schools to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, $81 billion of which was available immediately — on top of funding that had already been provided by the Trump administration.

As schools struggled to reopen around the nation in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus surge, the result of the omicron variant, many Americans have asked what happened to all the money that was to ensure school safety.

In Chicago, San Francisco, and Oakland — all Democrat-run cities — teachers staged unauthorized walkouts earlier this month to protest what they said was a lack of safety precautions. In several of these districts, such as San Francisco, much of the relief money had been spent on teacher pay, hiring additional guidance counselors, and “professional development.”

Notably, Biden’s law gave states and school districts until Sep. 30, 2024 to spend the money; there was little urgency.

Psaki had clearly prepared for the question. She cited several districts that had spent the money, noting that “different school districts spend it in different ways.” Some spent it on “ventilation”; others, she noted cheerfully, spent it on retaining staff.

It was necessary for Psaki to establish that there are “lots of ways” to spend the money, so that she could imply that those Democrat-run cities that spent the money on salaries instead of coronavirus tests had spent the relief money appropriately.

She then singled out Florida — and only Florida — “where they have done little to distribute money, little to no steps to distribute money across the state and to school districts.”

Her information was out of date, at best, and flatly wrong at worse.

It is true that Florida was the last state, as of last October, to submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Education for the use of the American Rescue Plan funds. Therefore the federal government withheld $2.3 billion in funding.

But that was only the last third of the funding that Florida had received. As even CNN noted, Florida had already received two-thirds of the $7 billion of its funding under the American Rescue Plan. The reason for the delay in applying for the last third, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) at the time, was that the state had enough money for its schools, and that “no district has articulated a need for funding that cannot be met with currently available resources.”

Regardless, Florida did submit a plan for spending the last third of the funding, and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona approved the funding earlier this month to great fanfare, noting that Florida would be able to spend on “closing gaps,” “summer learning,” and after school programs.

Psaki should have known that. She provided no evidence that Florida, or its school districts, had failed to spend federal money on testing or safety. In fact, many Florida school districts had distributed at-home COVID tests to students ahead of schools returning from winter break.

Christina Pushaw, spokesperson for Gov. DeSantis, pushed back sharply on Twitter, noting that while Florida schools had been completely open since the fall of 2020, schools in many Democrat-run jurisdictions had not been open, even today:

That is not to say everything has gone smoothly in Florida: in Broward County, 75,000 tests distributed by the school district turned out to include some expired tests. But Florida is hardly the biggest problem.

Psaki likely singled out Florida because it has refused to go along with the administration’s draconian mask and vaccine mandates, and because DeSantis is considered a political threat to Biden and the Democrats. But her claim was misleading.

Later, Psaki assured the reporter that the Biden administration was making sure there was no “waste, fraud, and abuse” in spending the funds. That seems doubtful, if she equates spending on teacher salaries with spending on ventilation and tests.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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