The federal government spread $4.6 trillion in coronavirus bailout funds like so much Halloween candy and seemingly did not care how much would be lost due to fraud.
That’s the word from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the nonpartisan auditing agency of Congress that scrutinizes federal programs. In a scathing report released Wednesday, the GAO ripped Washington for turning a blind eye to billions of dollars of waste.
Further, government agencies did not implement the most basic procedures to forego theft and fraud.
House Republicans are already on board with investigating the administration for the massive amounts of government funds wasted. Rep. James Comer (R-KY) on Wednesday called it “the greatest theft of American taxpayer dollars in history.”
The tossing away of billions was across the board, according to the comprehensive report. The government’s unemployment program doled out $873 billion in checks to those who claimed to be laid off or had their hours reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amazingly, applicants were allowed to self-certify their eligibility and were not required to document self-employment or previous income.
GAO estimates $60 billion in fraudulent pandemic unemployment insurance payments.
Next week, we are holding our first hearing of the 118th Congress to examine rampant waste and fraud in pandemic spending.
Americans deserve answers.https://t.co/grVleNRVos
— Oversight Committee (@GOPoversight) January 26, 2023
This, the GAO reported, resulted in “at least $163 billion” in unemployment benefits that “could have been paid improperly.” And that is likely an overly optimistic figure.
Billions more were dispersed through forgivable PPP and EIDL loans for businesses. These were so haphazardly distributed that the Small Business Administration (SBA), which implemented the program, did not even bother to set up an anti-fraud unit until the funds were gone.
The two loan programs dispersed almost $1 trillion, yet were expressly blocked by Congress from implementing data from tax returns to determine the eligibility of a business. Instead, the SBA depended on self-certification.
The congressional restriction was removed after nine months, but the SBA still waited to begin using official tax information to ascertain eligibility.
Across the board, examples of very preventable fraud and waste are glaringly apparent, and the new Republican House hopes to get to the bottom of this mess. In the meantime, hundreds of billions in pandemic relief funds are being enjoyed by economic criminals.