In March, when Congress allocated $1 billion dollars from its first coronavirus relief package to go to the U.S. Department of Defense, the expectation was that the funds would be spent on essential medical supplies needed for the department to help combat the deadly disease. At the time ― and even now ― the United States was facing a shortage of critical items like N95 masks. A new Washington Post report, however, reveals the Trump administration gave a majority of the Pentagon’s billion-dollar coronavirus aid package to defense contractors to make things like Army uniforms, body armor and jet engine parts.
The report comes on the same day the U.S. surpassed 200,000 coronavirus deaths, the most of any nation, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Congress allocated the $1 billion in coronavirus aid for the Department of Defense in March to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” But The Washington Post report revealed hundreds of millions of dollars from that fund was given to companies the DOD pays for shipbuilding, including the multibillion-dollar companies Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal.
The report also notes $80 million was awarded to a Kansas company that makes plane parts — air travel has slowed during the pandemic, and the company had already suffered from the nationwide grounding of Boeing 737 Max planes, a widely defective model.
On Tuesday afternoon, Democratic Representatives Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Mark Pocan (Wis.) said the Pentagon’s use of coronavirus aid for defense contractors is “unconscionable and should be investigated fully and prosecuted if warranted.”
In all, the report found at least one-third of the companies the Trump administration paid with the coronavirus medical supply funds had already been given loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Congress established for struggling businesses. PPP loans, distributed by the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration and designed as an incentive for small business owners to keep employees on payroll during the pandemic, have been found to be unevenly distributed. A May survey showed that nonwhite business owners were largely neglected by the program, and a lawsuit alleges that banks giving out the loans favored larger businesses. Reports on the pandemic’s economic impact show that large percentages of nonwhite business owners had to close their companies as the economy tanked under the weight of the pandemic.
Trump has publicly downplayed the impact of coronavirus since early this year, calling the virus a “hoax” contrived by the Democratic Party in February. He has publicly opposed widespread testing and he has undermined health officials’ recommendations that Americans wear masks out of concern that acknowledging the virus will harm him politically. In March, while states were pleading with the administration for help supplying strapped hospitals with critical supplies, Trump suggested they didn’t need it.
“How do you go from using 10,000 to 20,000 [masks] to 300,000?” Trump asked during a March press briefing. “Something’s going on. Where are the masks going, are they going out the back door?”
The Post report reveals Trump’s administration had already been working to redirect medical supply funds to defense contractors when Trump uttered those comments publicly on March 29.
This month, audio released from interviews between journalist Bob Woodward and Trump revealed that the president knew why hospitals were in need of these essential supplies, even as he publicly undermined their value.
During a private interview in February, Trump acknowledged that coronavirus posed a threat to public health: “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.”
“It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” Trump added, before admitting he’d always planned to downplay the impact of the virus.