Republican-led panel targets COVID relief dollars for review

Republican-led panel targets COVID relief dollars for review

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 1,000 people have pleaded guilty or been sentenced to federal charges of defrauding the myriad COVID-19 relief programs Congress put in place at the start of the pandemic. And more than 600 other people and entities face federal fraud charges.

But that’s just the beginning, according to investigators who are due to testify before a congressional committee on Wednesday as House Republicans mark the start of what they promise will be aggressive oversight of President Joe Biden’s administration.

The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability is holding its first hearing in the new Congress on fraud and waste in federal pandemic spending. Congress approved about $4.6 trillion in spending for six coronavirus relief laws, as of March 2020, when Donald Trump was president.

“We owe it to the American people to bring to light the greatest theft of American taxpayers’ money in history,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., chairman of the committee.

The Government Accountability Office is expected to tell the committee that the number of cases of alleged fraud will certainly increase in the coming months. For example, the Small Business Administration’s inspector general has more than 500 ongoing investigations into loan programs designed to help businesses with operating expenses during the pandemic. The Department of Labor’s inspector general continues to open at least 100 UI fraud investigations each week.

The GAO said the more than 1,000 convictions related to the COVID-19 relief fraud are a measure of its magnitude. How much money was lost due to fraud? That’s unknown, the GAO said, but it reported in December that an extrapolation of Labor Department data would suggest more than $60 billion in fraudulent unemployment insurance payments during the pandemic. The GAO also cautioned that such extrapolation has inherent limitations and should be interpreted with caution.

Still, lawmakers are eager to discern how many thefts have taken place and what can be done to stop them in future emergencies.

“We need to identify where that money went, how much ended up in the hands of fraudsters or ineligible participants, and what needs to be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Comer said.

About 20 inspectors general are working together to investigate pandemic relief spending. Michael Horowitz, who chairs a congressional committee created in March 2020 to lead oversight of COVID-19-related spending, is also set to testify.

In prepared remarks, Horowitz said the committee issued a fraud alert this week about the use of more than 69,000 dodgy Social Security numbers to secure $5.4 billion in pandemic loans and grants. .

David Smith, deputy director of the US Secret Service Bureau of Investigations, also testifies, who predicts that efforts to recover stolen assets and hold criminals accountable for pandemic fraud will continue for years.

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