Biden announces $1.6B plan to fight pandemic aid fraud, go after criminals

March 2 (UPI) — The White House announced a plan to combat rampant fraud that has emerged as a result of scammers and criminal organizations ripping off hundreds of billions of dollars in pandemic aid that was supposed to be used to help struggling families and businesses.

The move by President Joe Biden to help states address the problem comes one day after the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General estimated that at least $191 billion in unemployment payments throughout the pandemic could have been improper or fraudulent.

“This systemic fraud particularly impacted the pandemic small business programs and the new and expanded unemployment benefits that were originated in the first half of 2020,” the White House said in a statement that calls on Congress for new sweeping fraud controls and harsher penalties for the worst offenders.

“There must be a bipartisan response to punish those who engaged in major and systemic fraud against the American people during a time of national emergency,” the White House said.

Biden has set a lofty goal of getting the package of legislative reforms through the Republican-controlled Congress by June at a price tag of $1.6 billion.

A breakdown of the money shows the president asking for $600 million to put federal watchdogs in place and to ensure enough resources to investigate and prosecute what has become a massive administrative caseload across the country. About $300 million alone will go to the Pandemic Inspectors General’s office and to the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee office to add investigative oversight staff.

Those accused of fleecing pandemic funds range “from well-off individuals who took hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars from taxpayers to sophisticated criminal syndicates engaging in systemic identity theft,” the White House said in the statement. “It is imperative that those criminal syndicates who preyed on Americans during a time of unprecedented health and economic emergency know that they may run, but they cannot hide.”

The White House said funds approved by Congress would be used to expand Biden’s Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which has been instrumental so far in recovering millions in stolen loot.

Biden’s plan also calls for another $600 million investment to implement newer technology to fight identity theft, while blaming the previous administration for throwing out basic federal controls that would have curtailed such fraudulent activities.

An additional $400 million will go to helping victims of identity theft.

“We must recognize the nature of the harms to innocent victims who find themselves facing hardship, credit score deterioration, tax liability and extreme stress and helplessness through no fault of their own,” the White House said.

Other aspects of the plan include provisions to increase the statute of limitations to 10 years in cases where fraud was expansive or systemic. The policy would also expand the Treasury Department’s Do Not Pay Service and increase checks on tax transcripts, where discrepancies can expose cases of identity theft.


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