Biden asks Congress to pay more than $1.6BILLION to help solve widespread COVID fraud: Only $268M has been recovered
- Biden is asking for $1.6 billion to fight fraud in COVID utilities
- Watchdog groups don’t know how much has been stolen from nearly $6 trillion programs
- The Secret Service has already recovered $268 million
President Joe Biden is asking Congress for $1.6 billion to address fraud stemming from the government’s emergency relief programs for the coronavirus pandemic.
The request comes ahead of a pledge by House Republicans to examine trillions of dollars in COVID pandemic aid that was approved under both Biden and President Donald Trump.
Shortly after parts of the US economy shut down in the wake of the coronavirus, Congress passed trillions in emergency measures to help businesses, local governments and individuals who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
Nearly $6 trillion was authorized — some under Biden and some under Trump. That is more than the government spent annually before the pandemic. And some programs were victims of fraud.
“Overall, those programs have done tremendously well,” said Gene Sperling, a White House adviser who is leading the funding application. “There were also cases where guardrails were unnecessarily lowered, leading to unnecessary and massive fraud.”
President Joe Biden is asking Congress for $1.6 billion to fight fraud in COVID aid programs
Some money has already been recovered.
The Secret Service recovered $286 million last year that had been fraudulently provided through the Small Business Administration. The Justice Department also investigates fraud cases related to the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance, and Medicare.
But it is believed that there is more stolen money.
A Washington Post research found fraudsters quickly funneled billions of dollars away from key federal agencies, and watchdog groups admit they still don’t know the full extent of the losses.
And the government likely allocated about $5.4 billion in COVID aid to people with questionable Social Security numbers, the federal watchdog group Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) said last month.
Larry Turner, the inspector general of the Department of Labor, said at a congressional hearing last month that the federal government may have paid $191 billion in improper pandemic unemployment benefits.
Claims for unemployment benefits soared in 2020, as some 22 million jobs were lost in the early months of the COVID pandemic and the unemployment rate rose to 14.7%, the highest rate dating back to the late 1940s.
Biden’s funding request includes $600 million to help investigate large-scale fraud by criminal syndicates, $600 million to protect against fraud and identity theft, and $400 million to help victims whose identities have been stolen, the White House said.
President Joe Biden plans to include his funding proposal as part of his fiscal year 2024 budget request, which the White House will release on March 9.
Watchdog groups don’t know how much has been stolen from nearly $6 trillion in COVID aid programs
The president is also pushing for new policies to stop people from getting federal aid in the name of other people, the dead and prisoners — one of the ways pandemic funds have been stolen.
In addition, Biden wants Congress to increase the statute of limitations for serious pandemic unemployment insurance fraud to 10 years.
Sperling said during a briefing call with reporters that he believes lawmakers from both sides can come to an agreement on the issue, adding that Republicans have raised concerns about waste, fraud and abuse.
Republicans have already made efforts to crack down on fraud and recover stolen unemployment benefits.
One GOP bill would allow states to keep a quarter of recovered fraudulent overpayments and use some of those recovered funds to improve fraud prevention for various programs.
Biden plans to include his funding proposal as part of his fiscal year 2024 budget request, which the White House will release on March 9.
It will come at a time when Republicans have vowed to crack down on federal spending.