COVID-19: Biden to take aim at pandemic-relief fraudsters – USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration announced a series of measures Thursday to track down and punish fraudsters who scammed billions of taxpayer dollars that were supposed to provide relief to Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Joe Biden is pledging $1.6 billion to bolster law enforcement manpower and new programs that will be used to prosecute scammers, prevent fraud, and provide assistance to victims of identity theft.
“We want to not only capture them and get their funds, we want to send a signal to them that you can run, but you cannot hide,” said Gene Sperling, a Biden senior adviser who is overseeing the implementation of the COVID-relief plan.
The federal government distributed more than $5 trillion in pandemic relief under programs approved by Biden and former President Donald Trump. The money was distributed quickly, leading to an increase in fraud and other improper payments, such as those that shouldn’t have been made or were made in the wrong amount.
The Government Accountability Office reported last month that the extent of fraud in COVID-relief programs is not yet known but that the Unemployment Insurance program alone was believed to have made more than $60 billion in fraudulent payments.
From March 2020 to last January, at least 1,044 people pleaded guilty or were convicted of defrauding COVID relief programs, the GAO report said. Federal charges were pending against another 609 individuals or entities for attempting to defraud COVID-relief programs.
Also, the federal government gave $5.4 billion in COVID aid to small businesses with “questionable” Social Security numbers, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee reported in January. The watchdog identified nearly 70,000 questionable Social Security numbers used to obtain pandemic aid from two programs run by the Small Business Administration.
The Republican-led House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Committee has opened an investigation into fraud in COVID-relief programs. The committee held its first hearing on the subject last month.
Sperling, however, said the administration’s anti-fraud package isn’t a direct response to the GOP investigations. Most of the proposals were being prepared before last November’s election, he said.
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Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.