The Biden administration announced today that it is pledging $1.6 billion for the implementation of new measures to investigate, prosecute, and prevent COVID-relief fraud.
The federal government distributed more than $5 trillion in pandemic relief under programs approved by Biden and former President Trump. The money was distributed quickly, leading to an increase in fraud and other improper payments, and the federal government is acting to recover taxpayer dollars that were wrongfully obtained.
From March 2020 to last January, at least 1,044 people pleaded guilty or were convicted of defrauding COVID relief programs. Federal charges were pending against another 609 individuals or entities for attempting to defraud COVID-relief programs.
The administration's plans call for creating 10 Department of Justice “strike forces” that will include U.S. attorneys and other law enforcement officials to investigate COVID-relief fraud and help recover stolen tax dollars. The strike forces will target criminal syndicates and other major fraudsters. Three strike forces already are in place, including one in the Southern District of Florida, and have recovered millions of dollars in stolen relief funds.
The administration will also propose increasing the statute of limitations to 10 years for fraud involving the pandemic Unemployment Insurance program. 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.
Approximately $300 million will be distributed to inspectors general at the Small Business Administration, the Department of Labor and the staff of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a government watchdog over pandemic spending. The money would be used to hire investigators and make sure they have the resources needed to pursue specialized cases of pandemic fraud.