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Of course some anti-vaxx groups got PPP funds

Completely on brand.

Texas-based anti-vaccine organization Informed Consent Action Network was among five anti-vaccine groups that collectively received more than $850,000 in federal loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, the Washington Post reported Monday. The organization received $166,000 in May 2020, according to founder Del Bigtree.

“Vaccine hesitancy” or “vaccine skepticism” poses a significant and ongoing challenge for health authorities trying to overcome mistrust within communities of color, by the anti-vaccine crowd and general uncertainty nationwide. Doctors and scientists say the coronavirus vaccines currently available in the United States are safe and effective.

“At a minimum, it’s a mixed message from the government,” said Timothy Callaghan, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health. “Those individuals who are hesitant are going to be looking to various pieces of information to help them make this decision…and if one of the key pieces of information coming out is the government funding anti-vaccine groups, it could send a signal to these individuals that maybe they shouldn’t be vaccinating,” he told The Texas Tribune.

The Austin-based nonprofit has more than 43,000 followers on Facebook and regularly posts information questioning the safety of the coronavirus vaccines. Bigtree’s online anti-vaccine talk show was penalized by Facebook and YouTube last year for violating misinformation policies and downplaying the severity of the pandemic.

As the WaPo story notes, this wasn’t just in Texas. In terms of actual dollars, it’s not that much, but boy does the principle of it rankle. And given how Greg Abbott has staked everything on getting the vaccine rolled out, it would be nice if he felt a little heat from this, since the anti-vaxxers have had more success than failure in the Legislature in recent years. You would think he’d be unhappy about this. Good luck getting him to say anything about it, though.

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One Comment

  1. Lobo says:

    Contention: From a public policy perspective, this is not really such a big deal.

    The federal policy in question has nothing to do with the vaccination campaign. Instead, it was designed as a broad-sweeping program to mitigate the economic/employment effects of the fight against the pandemic by getting cash into the hands of folks that would otherwise lose their jobs/income.

    So, it shouldn’t really matter what kind of work the beneficiaries are doing, at least not from the macro-economic perspective. And if such considerations were to be woven into the macro-economic policy, how would these decisions be made, not to mention in haste?

    While it may be desirable (from in a more holistic view of the public interest) to deny eligibility to a group like this, it would not be practical to subject applicants to a litmus tests based on the content of positions they take on issues of public concern. Lots of groups/companies/industries could be disqualified based on a myriad of different public-interest considerations.

    As far as implementation, up-front screening of applicants to gauge their harmfulness to the public interest would probably not be feasible, so the only way to enforce selective exclusion would be through post-hoc enforcement (and clawback of disbursed funds) based on eligibility/disqualification rules written into the program, combined with a requirement for applicants to self-certify eligibility. I don’t know enough about the eligibility requirements to say more.

    Perhaps someone can elaborate.

    I am aware, however, that Texas law firms qualified for and received federal funds. (You can even look which ones got how much on the Internet). Should they have been subjected to an inquiry as to what types of clients they represent? What about foreclosure and eviction law firms? Should they receive support when their business is to kick people out of their homes contrary to pandemic-mitigation policy and federal eviction ban? And what about nonprofit Legal Aid outfits on the other side of the eviction docket? Is it / should it make a difference which side of the docket they are on? What about solos and small lawfirms that help people hold on to their homesteads when they fall behind on the mortgage?