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Congress owes it to taxpayers to take on fraud in COVID spending

FILE – Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies during a Senate Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill, Sept. 15, 2021, in Washington. Inspectors general need more authority to go after fraud in the COVID-19 relief programs, the independent committee overseeing federal pandemic relief spending said Tuesday, May 31, 2022. Horowitz, head of the committee, said the $150,000 threshold is far too low given the scope of the fraud in programs set up to help businesses and people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP, File)

Today, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability will hold its first hearing on what was, by all accounts, one of the largest scams in American history.

We’re meeting to investigate the fraudulent allocation of emergency assistance during the COVID pandemic. Or in layman’s terms — the Feds were scammed out of a boatload of COVID money, and we’re demanding accountability.

This committee, of which I am a member, exists for precisely such a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars. When an estimated $560 billion in federal funds are improperly doled out by state and federal agencies, questions need to be asked and answered, changes need to be made, and the fraudsters must be held accountable. 

Here’s what we know.

During the COVID pandemic, Congress allocated over $3.5 trillion in emergency funds that went to individuals and businesses. Of those funds, hundreds of billions reportedly were fraudulently paid out. 

Fear not, this investigation is not about tracking down moms and dads who may have received an extra month in unemployment insurance after the government shut down their employer. It’s about identifying individuals like the eight in Georgia who allegedly stole $30 million by filing 5,000 unemployment claims, or the four people in Texas who allegedly swindled $18 million in PPP loans and were trying to steal an additional $17 million. And it’s about why the federal government didn’t have the proper procedures in place to prevent these criminals from receiving tens of millions illegally.     

Just how much was stolen? Well, the Department of Labor’s inspector general has reported that $163 billion of the $794 billion in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) was improperly paid out. 

And if that doesn’t make your stomach turn, independent analysts have suggested that that number could be closer to $400 billion, with 70 percent leaving the country and lining the pockets of criminals from China, Nigeria, and Russia, just to name a few.  

Here’s the sad part – the PUA was just one of many programs that lost billions, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Impact Payments (commonly known as stimulus checks), and the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). The total amount illegally taken is likely over half a trillion dollars. 

In the understatement of the century, there was a serious misallocation of these programs’ funds.  

Now that we understand the historic fraud that occurred, the next logical question is, of course,  what can be done about it?

Currently there are hundreds of staff throughout many different agencies working across the country to track down these funds. Making sure our law enforcement agencies bring justice to these criminals while avoiding further weaponization of federal agencies against the American people is essential. 

The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability isn’t a partisan committee. We’re committed to rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse regardless of when or where it occurred. In this particular scenario, $3.1 trillion in pandemic relief was passed under the Trump administration and $1.9 trillion was passed under the Biden administration. This isn’t about blaming any one politician or scoring political points, it’s about ensuring that such blatant disregard for the American taxpayer never occurs again.

The reckless implementation of these COVID relief programs has real-world consequences. The COVID spending spree, much of it which we now know didn’t go to deserving recipients, created an average $8,581 inflation tax for American middle-class families. At the end of 2022, the price of fuel oil was up 65.7 percent, eggs were up over 49 percent, and airplane tickets were up 36 percent. The real victim here isn’t the federal government, it’s hard-working American families.    

Americans won’t accept a government that gives hundreds of billions to criminals while simultaneously inducing historically high inflation. Neither should Congress. 

Lauren Boebert represents Colorado’s 3rd District and is a member of the Committee on Oversight and Accountability.

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