US: Billions of Dollars Lost in COVID-19 Relief Fund Fraud
Aside from losing over 1.13 million people to COVID-19, the United States is thought to have lost billions of dollars in pandemic relief fund fraud, according to the most recent Associated Press analysis, published on Monday.
The analysis discovered that fraudsters took more than US$280 billion in COVID-19 relief cash, while another $123 billion was lost or misspent.
“Combined, the loss represents 10 percent of the $4.2 trillion the U.S. government has so far disbursed in COVID relief aid,” read the report.
According to the analysis, all of this resulted in the worst heist in U.S. history, with criminals stealing billions of dollars in government COVID-19 relief money intended to confront the deadliest epidemic in a century and stabilize an economy in free fall.
It also stressed that the numbers are bound to rise as investigators delve further into thousands of potential scams.
In an attempt to explain what happened, the analysis cited investigators and independent experts as suggesting that the government, in order to spend trillions of dollars in relief aid rapidly, exercised too little control during the pandemic’s early phases and instituted too few limitations on applicants.
“In short, they say, the grift was just way too easy,” read the article.
For example, it outlined how fraudsters obtained unemployment benefits by using the Social Security numbers of deceased people and federal prisoners.
“Cheaters collected those benefits in multiple states, and federal loan applicants weren’t cross-checked against a Treasury Department database that would have raised red flags about sketchy borrowers,” the report states.
According to the AP analysis, not only criminals and gangs took the money, but also a “U.S. soldier in Georgia, the pastors of a defunct church in Texas, a former state lawmaker in Missouri, and a roofing contractor in Montana.”
The majority of the misappropriated funds reportedly came from three huge pandemic-relief programs initiated during the administration of former president Donald Trump. The money was intended to help small businesses and jobless people survive the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.
President Joseph R. Biden’s administration inherited the programs, and the problems.
According to estimates from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, Trump approved emergency aid measures totaling $3.2 trillion before leaving office. Biden’s 2021 American Rescue Plan approved spending another $1.9 trillion, while more than a fifth of the $5.2 trillion has yet to be paid out, according to the committee’s most current accounting.
However, the Biden administration introduced stronger procedures to combat pandemic fraud, including the use of the “Do Not Pay” database, the government’s resource dedicated to preventing and detecting improper payments.
The report also noted that president Biden recently suggested a $1.6 billion plan to increase law enforcement operations targeting pandemic relief fraudsters.
So far, the U.S. government has reportedly charged more than 2,230 people with pandemic-related fraud, while hundreds of additional investigations are underway.