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- Congressional Republicans unanimously opposed the $1.9 trillion American Recovery Act.
- The law sends $350 billion to localities and gives them wide discretion on how to spend it.
- The law allows, but does not require, localities to spend some of the money on essential workers such as police.
- Nothing in the law cuts funding to police departments.
In last fall’s campaigns, Republicans thundered often inaccurate charges that Democrats wanted to defund police departments.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., is flipping the script and saying that all congressional Republicans voted to defund police this year when they opposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan.
"Every Republican in Congress voted to defund police when they voted against the American Rescue Plan," Scott tweeted on July 12.
Scott represents Virginia’s 3rd congressional district, stretching from Norfolk and parts of Chesapeake north through Newport News and west through Franklin.
His claim, echoing a Democratic talking point, melts under scrutiny. Here’s why.
The term "defunding police'' arose after the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Many advocates say it does not mean abolishing police, but rather reallocating some of the money and the duties that have traditionally been handled by police departments.
For example, instead of dispatching police for routine calls involving drug abuse or mental health issues, advocates say it would be better to send officials from social service departments who have training in treating people with those problems. Some of the funds going to police, they say, would be better spent treating mental illness and addiction. Theoretically, that would allow police to put more focus on violent crime.
The defund police movement became an attack line for Republicans in 2020, and many Democrats, including President Joe Biden, repeatedly disassociated themselves from it. Moderate Democrats, including Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, said progressives’ calls for defunding police were a large reason congressional Democrats didn’t win as many seats as expected last fall.
The American Rescue Plan passed Congress in March 2021 with no Republican support. The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package provides aid to individuals, small businesses, nonprofits and the tourism industry. Included in that amount is $350 billion to help state, local and tribal governments recoup revenues they lost because of the coronavirus crisis. The law gives governments choices for using the money, including providing "premium pay to essential workers or provid(ing) grants to employers of essential workers during the COVID-19 emergency."
In other words, the law does not require governments to spend the aid on essential workers such as police, teachers or medical technicians; it gives them the option to. When lawmakers voted on the bill, there was no guarantee that localities would funnel some of the money to police departments. And the bill did not cut funding to any department. So a vote against the bill giving the states and localities a one-time injection of extra cash was not tantamount to a vote to defund police.
Republican leaders never mentioned police funding in their list of reasons for voting against the bill. They criticized the cost of the package, charged that it was filled with Democratic pet projects, and said only a small portion of the money was specifically designated for spending on the coronavirus vaccines.
We asked Scott’s office to back up his statement. Austin Barbera, his press secretary, wrote in an email that the act "was intended to replace lost revenue during the pandemic and to continue to keep emergency services and cops on the job – among other things."
Barbera sent an NBC article noting that communities in at least 10 congressional districts represented by Republicans who opposed the bill are using some of its relief funds to help their police departments.
He also noted that House Republicans unanimously voted against a separate, $1.9 billion bill to secure the U.S. Capitol after the Jan. 6 insurrection. The measure passed the House on a 219-212 vote and is pending in the Senate. Among other things, it would cover costs the Capitol Police and other security forces incurred in quelling the riot.
"These are just two examples of how House Republicans have all voted against funding the police just this year," Barbera said.
It should be pointed out, however, that the bill would offer one-time supplements to the security forces and pay for a long list of capital improvements. Opposing the bill does not rise to a vote to take away existing funding.
Scott tweeted, "Every Republican in Congress voted to defund the police when they voted against the American Rescue Plan."
The $1.9 trillion stimulus dedicates $350 billion to compensating state, local and tribal governments for lost revenues during the coronavirus crisis. The law gives the governments wide flexibility in using the money, and one option is to spend it on essential workers or their departments.
But the bill never guaranteed that the money would go to essential workers — including police and their departments — when Republicans voted against it. And there’s a huge difference between voting against a possible one-time cash injection into police departments and cutting their existing funding, as Scott implied.
We rate Scott’s statement False.
Bobby Scott, Twitter, July 12, 2021.
Email from Austin Barbera, press secretary for Scott, July 16, 2021.
Brookings, "What does ‘defund the police’ mean and does it have merit?" June 19, 2020.
PolitiFact Virginia, "Mark Warner says he opposes defunding police, contrary to Daniel Gade's claims," June 22, 2020.
The Hill, "Warner blames Democratic losses on 'defund the police,'" Nov. 14, 2020.
The Washington Post, "Spanberger sparked a debate about ‘defund police attacks,’" Nov. 11, 2020.
PolitiFact, "How much goes to COVID-19 vaccines in the stimulus bill?" Feb. 26, 2021.
Mitch McConnell, "Democrats Using Crisis to Check off Unrelated Liberal Priorities," March 2, 2021.
.NBC, "House Republicans who opposed Covid aid still see funds flow to local police departments," July 1, 2021.
CNBC, "House passes $1.9 billion Capitol security bill that faces Senate roadblocks," May 20, 2021.
The Washington Post, "The White House’s slipshod claim that Republicans are defunding the police," July 7. 2021.
FactCheck.org, "Democrat Makes Misleading ‘Defund the Police’ Claim," July 6, 2021.
Nancy Pelosi, "House Republicans vote to defund police - again," June 29, 2021.
Cedric Richmond, Fox News Sunday interview, June 27, 2021.
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