Unmasking President Biden’s Free Mask Plan | Citizens Against Government Waste

Unmasking President Biden’s Free Mask Plan

The WasteWatcher

On February 4, 2020, NBC News reported that the Biden administration’s COVID-19 Response Team was considering sending masks to all 128 million U.S. households.  The administration has not decided whether to send disposable paper or reusable cloth masks, which would present a wide range of costs to taxpayers, both in shipping weight and purchases. 

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) jokingly wondered if this was a not too clever way for the Biden administration to send some bailout money to the U.S. Post Office (USPS), currently $14 billion in debt.  Four paper disposable masks, which would cover the average family size, would weigh at least an ounce.  Using a flat rate envelope, costing $7.95, to mail the masks would cost taxpayers just over $1 billion, which is a lot of money to spend foolishly and will not help reduce the USPS debt by very much.

According to Huffington Post, mailing the masks was first proposed by the USPS in April 2020.  The organization American Oversight obtained 9,000 pages through the Freedom of Information Act on the USPS proposition.  The agency hoped to send a pack of five reusable cotton masks, or 640 million, to every American household.   Fortunately, the White House killed the plan.

If the Biden administration should implement such an idea, who would provide the masks?  At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, China was the world leader in mask production, but its overall manufacturing growth weakened earlier this year.  Secretary of State Tony Blinken and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) that China presents the greatest long-term national security threat to the U.S.  The administration claims it will approach its relationship with China differently than the Trump administration, from a position of strength and not weakness.

This is a different point of view than President Biden had when he was running for office in 2019 and 2020.  He was critical of the Trump administration’s tariffs on China, downplayed its economic threat, and said at an Iowa rally, “China is going to eat our lunch?  Come on, man … they can't figure out how they're going to deal with the corruption that exists within the system.  They're not bad folks, folks.  But guess what, they're not competition for us.”

After President Biden signed a “Made in America” Executive Order on January 28, “ensuring that when the federal government spends taxpayer dollars they are spent on American made goods by American workers and with American-made component parts,” it is less likely that China, or any other country for that matter, would be a supplier of the masks.  That could be a problem if the administration is serious about implementing this policy, considering the number of masks that would be needed to be purchased and distributed.

CAGW opposed President Trump when he signed an Executive Order implementing a similar buy American policy in August 2020.  While we understood the concerns over China, we argued it was unwise to impose such restrictions, especially on medical products, during a pandemic.

Supposedly, Biden’s mask distribution concept has been raised in several meetings by the president’s COVID-19 Response Team, which includes David Kessler, M.D., who serves as the chief science officer and was the FDA commissioner under President George H.W. Bush.  But this idea likely came from another member of the team, former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Andy Slavitt.  He co-authored a July 2020 Op-ed with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and called for “a simple, common-sense, practical and inexpensive way to protect Americans during the coronavirus pandemic:  Masks for All.  Our goal must be to make high-quality masks available on an equitable basis to every single person in this country at no cost.”

It is unlikely this proposal would be simple or inexpensive, especially if it is run by the USPS, which is having enough trouble delivering the mail it already has in a timely manner.  People are still getting Christmas card that were mailed in November and December, with stories from the Washington, D.C. area about packages being late or not delivered at all, and Chicago, where some residents are being told to go to the local post office and wait in line to get mail that should have been delivered, are indicative of issues across the country.  Based on Dr. Anthony Fauci’s estimate that all Americans will be vaccinated by June, the masks are highly likely to arrive well after that occurs. 

Instead, like usual, American entrepreneurs have taken care of the problem.  The supply of masks has greatly changed from a year ago.  Masks are now ubiquitous and available in a variety of designs, colors, materials, sizes, and prices from an assortment of locations like drug stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, and the internet.  There is also plenty of information on what are the best types of masks to purchase so it is easy for consumers to become educated.

Polls show that whether or not people wear masks depends on where they are and who they are with.  A January poll shows that while 83 percent of Americans believe wearing a mask is an effective way to protect people from the virus, only 51 percent wear a facial covering in public.  For example, 90 percent wear a mask while grocery shopping, but only 22 percent do so when exercising outdoors.

Let’s hope the Biden policy to send masks to every household was just a trial balloon that gets shot down for its blatant absurdity and wastefulness.  There is no need for the government to purchase and have the USPS mail masks to U.S citizens.  The needed distribution and use have already been achieved.  Like everything else the government does, it will be more costly than anticipated, fail to achieve its objective, and will not be completed until long after there is any need for everyone to have a mask.