Examining Social Vulnerability in COVID-19 Funding Allocations
In response to the massive human and economic losses across the country due to COVID-19, US federal policymakers provided unprecedented levels of funding to state and local governments, designed to support communities and provide fiscal relief amid business closures, rising unemployment, and shortages in health resources. Early insights from public health experts suggest that the pandemic disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities across the country, with certain marginalized groups experiencing higher rates of positive cases and fatality. Coupled with the economic strains of the crisis, people with more limited access to resources for support are more widely and deeply affected by the continued spread of the virus. While empirical analyses have been conducted to identify which groups may be more vulnerable to the health and economic consequences of the pandemic, limited research has explored if – and to what extent – the considerable federal response has sufficiently targeted resources toward vulnerable groups. This paper explores whether an association exists between vulnerability and federal funding allocations during COVID-19 using county-level data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), the CDC’s COVID-19 case rates, the Department of the Treasury, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Election Lab. Using ordinary least squares regression, this paper finds a significant association between the four categories of social vulnerability as defined by the CDC (socioeconomic status, household composition, minority status and language, and household type and composition) and COVID-19 federal outlays. The directions of the associations are mixed: socioeconomic status and household composition had a negative association with the size of funding outlays, while minority status and language and household type and composition had a positive association with funding outlays. The results suggest that social vulnerability is a useful predictor of federal outlay allocations, but the negative associations across two of the comprised categories also suggest that pandemic funding allocations have not efficiently addressed – and perhaps have run counterintuitive in lacking to support – the needs of certain vulnerable groups. This paper has significant policy implications in the study of federal allocation decisions and social vulnerability, and demonstrates the need for further research on the relationship between the two.
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