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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a news briefing at the White House on Monday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The White House is defending against criticism of its proposed budget to reopen schools found in its larger $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, stressing the need for “aggressive action” in points shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans have been hammering the White House for insisting the proposed funding is necessary to reopen schools, arguing much of the money from the original CARES Act has yet to be spent.

  • "They're doing devastating, long-term damage to these kids by not reopening. And it's a national disgrace," Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said during an interview on Fox News last Thursday.

The White House is arguing this budget proposal takes into account funds that schools received from the first stimulus package and the December bill that they will continue to spend over the next two school years.

  • It also points to the fact the majority of education costs are personnel or "otherwise built into spending plans."
  • During a briefing Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said schools need to "obligate funds according to spending plans, rather than exhausting all balances as soon as they're received."

By the numbers: Nearly $130 billion of the broader stimulus package is for K-12 public schools.

  • The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan institution, says states have only spent $3 billion out of the $13 billion appropriated by the CARES Act.
  • It estimates that $6 billion of the new proposed budget of $130 billion would make its way to schools this year.

But, but, but: The White House argues the data has a 30-90 day lag, so it's possible the number already spent from the CARES Act is higher — and potentially half of $13 billion.

Go deeper

Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Bipartisanship ends this week with stimulus vote

Rep. Jason Smith (from left), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Bipartisanship - at least over President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan — appears over, with House Democrats ready to approve the measure this week through a party-line vote.

Between the lines: The GOP, which is already whipping against the bill, plans to cast it as a progressive wishlist and argue Democrats are bulldozing Republicans despite Biden's pledge to work with them.

Pandemic puts money, political muscle behind broadband

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Now that the pandemic has made it clear just how essential it is to be connected to high-speed internet, lawmakers are finally putting billions of dollars into funding government programs to expand access to it.

Why it matters: The big lesson from the pandemic is that broadband service is no longer a nice-to-have amenity — it’s critical for virtual school, remote work and telemedicine. Yet around 14.5 million Americans still lack access to it, according to the FCC. (Many advocates believe that figure undercounts the number of people still not connected.)

Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden to temporarily target PPP loans to smallest businesses

Biden's nominee for small business administrator, Isabel Guzman. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Biden administration will temporarily prevent big businesses from applying for loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, restricting applications to businesses with fewer than 20 employees, according to administration officials.

Why it matters: The White House wants to target small businesses and ensure that they are not shut out of the application process, as some were during the first round of the program last spring.