Fiscal Waste During the Pandemic in Canada and the United States

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Fiscal Waste During the Pandemic in Canada and the United States

During the pandemic, governments around the world spent a significant amount of taxpayer money in an effort to support their economies. This was particularly true in Canada, with hundred billion-dollar programs such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and in the United States, with nearly trillion-dollar programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Impact Payments, and expanded and extended unemployment programs. Given the significant cost of these programs, it’s important to assess their efficiency or, rather, the degree to which they were excessive, poorly targeted, or simply wasteful.

Canadian COVID programs such as CEWS and CERB were ripe with problems including overpayments, funds provided to individuals and businesses not in genuine need, and excessive amounts of support that went above what was required to stabilize incomes. In the United States, independent analysis found excess unemployment payments, a poorly designed paycheck protection program, and largely ineffective stimulus payments.

Each country wasted billions in taxpayer money on their COVID responses, which was financed entirely through borrowing. Canada’s federal COVID spending totaled $359.7 billion, of which an estimated 25 percent ($89.9 billion), at a minimum, was wasted. Total federal COVID spending has added $8.3 billion to present-day interest costs and we estimate approximately $2.1 billion of that amount is attributable to wasteful COVID spending. Over the next 10 years, Canada’s federal government is projected to pay $21.1 billion in interest costs attributable to COVID fiscal waste. Put differently, the cost of Canada’s COVID fiscal waste will total roughly $111.0 billion by the end of 2032/33.

The United States’ COVID spending response came at a price tag of nearly $5.1 trillion and an estimated 25 percent ($1.3 trillion) of that amount, at a minimum, was wasted. At least $28.8 billion of current interest costs are directly connected to fiscal waste in the US during the pandemic. Further, the US government will pay approximately $289.4 billion in interest payments over the next decade due to COVID waste. In summary, the cost of the United States’ COVID fiscal waste will total more than $1.56 trillion by the conclusion of 2032/33.

Overall, it’s clear that over the long-term Canadians and Americans will face significant ongoing costs to pay for wasteful and poorly targeted government spending during the pandemic.

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