House Oversight Committee set to grill officials over tracing $140B in pandemic relief fraud

The latest estimate shows pandemic unemployment benefit fraud topping $60 billion, coupled with PPP loan fraud totaling about $140 billion.

Published: January 27, 2023 2:12pm

Updated: January 31, 2023 11:07pm

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, under the chairmanship of Kentucky GOP Rep. James Comer, is set to grill key federal officials over tracing the staggering amount of fraud related to pandemic stimulus funds during its first formal hearing.

The hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, is focused on the "rampant waste of taxpayer dollars in COVID relief programs," according to the committee's majority.

Comer has invited several federal officials to testify, including Michael Horowitz, chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, Gene Dodaro, comptroller general at the Government Accountability Office and Roy Dotson, assistant special agent in charge and national pandemic fraud recovery coordinator at the U.S. Secret Service.

According to the committee, Comer has sought "documents, communications, and information related to tracking of fraud and improper payments in the unemployment insurance programs" from several federal and state agencies, including: the secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, the inspector general of the Department of Labor, the director of the California Employment Development Department, commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor and secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

The committee's majority hasn't said whether Comer received responses to his formal letters. 

The latest estimate shows pandemic unemployment benefit fraud topping $60 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. 

The Justice Department is actively investigating cases of fraud under the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to issue forgivable loans to qualified businesses during the pandemic. Some studies have estimated that as much as 10% of the loans issued under the program, about $80 billion, were obtained fraudulently.

Only a small fraction of the total estimated amount of fraudulently obtained funds has been recouped so far. California announced it had recouped $1.1 billion. The Justice Department hasn't released final figures for fiscal year 2021 or 2022. In fiscal 2020, just $2.2 billion was recouped

"We owe it to Americans to identify how hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars spent under the guise of pandemic relief were lost to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement," Comer said in a statement about the upcoming hearing. 

"For the past two years, the Biden Administration has allowed fraud to run rampant in federal assistance programs and Democrats in Congress conducted little oversight,” he added. "That changes with our House Republican majority. Under Republican leadership, the Oversight Committee is returning to its primary duty to root out waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in the federal government and hold President Biden accountable."

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