WASHINGTON, D.C. – Government officials and lawmakers said billions of COVID-19 relief dollars were lost to fraud, abuse and some say mismanagement. That was the focus of the House Oversight Committee’s first full hearing.
“We owe it to the American people to get to the bottom of the greatest theft of American taxpayer dollars in history,” said Rep. James Comer (R- TN).
In the first House Oversight hearing, members on both sides of the aisle took swipes at each other. Republicans, who are now in the majority, blame the other side for a lack of oversight on this issue. Democrats argue when they were in the majority, they’ve held several hearings on fraud and abuse of covid funding. Once they stopped taking jabs, federal officials said fraudsters took advantage and stole billions from the covid relief payment programs the government created in response to the pandemic.
“Criminals were prepared to exploit the pandemic in part because for years they were selling identity stolen from past data breaches,” said David Smith, Assistant Director of the Office of Investigations in the U.S. Secret Service. “They were also fabricating identities using personal and financial data combined with false information. Our investigators also revealed that criminals used shell companies and shell companies and false employment information.”
Government officials said most of the money that was fraudulently used could’ve been saved if there were more screenings as to who and where that money was going to.
“How many people who received money from the federal government were on the do not pay list,” asked Rep. Comer.
“What I do know is from the PPP program because almost 400 billion went out in two weeks right in that program,” said Michael Horowitz with the DOJ Inspector General Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. “Of that amount, 3.6 billion shouldn’t have gone out right away. Not saying every on one those would have been denied but at a minimum, there should have been secondary screening.”
Overall, officials said some hard lessons were learned and they are still working to recuperate the billions of dollars they believe were fraudulently taken from COVID relief programs.