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The greatest theft of taxpayer dollars in history

by SEN. MIKE CRAPO Contributing Writer
| July 28, 2022 1:00 AM

Unemployment fraud during the pandemic has been the greatest theft of taxpayer dollars in American history.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates unemployment fraud has left taxpayers on the hook for $163 billion, or more, and only around $4 billion has been recovered. Compounding the offense, transnational organized criminal networks, including cartels based in China, Ghana, Nigeria, Romania and Russia, appear to have carried out much of this fraud, exploiting the pandemic to steal American taxpayers’ money.

I introduced the Chase COVID Unemployment Fraud Act of 2022 in the Senate to jumpstart efforts to claw back these stolen funds by ensuring aggressive identification, investigation and prosecution of criminal fraud in pandemic unemployment programs, and to provide incentives for states to recover fraudulent payments.

The Chase COVID Unemployment Fraud Act includes provisions to boost efforts to recover these stolen funds:

Incentivizes state recovery of fraudulently paid federal COVID unemployment compensation benefits by allowing states to retain 25 percent of federal funds recovered;

Prevents fraud through data matching, identity validation and income verification;

Prohibits the Biden Administration from allowing states to waive suspicious overpayments; and

Requires the DOL to report on fraudulent overpayments and amounts recovered.

Republican U.S. House Leaders, led by U.S. House Ways and Means Republican Leader Kevin Brady (R-Texas), introduced the Chase COVID Unemployment Fraud Act in the House on June 9, 2022. Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said, “The federal government has spent over $5 trillion on COVID relief, and the American people deserve to know that money went where it was supposed to. The Chase COVID Unemployment Fraud Act would give states the tools and incentives to recover fraudulent unemployment payments.”

This legislation builds on ongoing efforts to ensure accountability of COVID relief spending:

Last year, Representative Brady and I, along with other Republican leaders, introduced similar legislation, the Combatting COVID Unemployment Fraud Act of 2021, to try to prevent fraud in COVID unemployment programs and recover fraudulently paid benefits.

Additionally, this May, we sent a letter to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Martin Walsh urging Secretary Walsh to devote significantly more resources to detection and prevention of unemployment insurance fraud, given the amount of fraud occurring in these programs nationwide.

I regularly meet with Idahoans who champion worthy causes in need of federal financial backing. Unless these efforts already have sustainable federal funding sources, difficult cuts often must be made to other areas of federal spending to support these worthy causes without driving up federal debt beyond already unsustainable levels. The theft of taxpayer dollars to such an extreme--especially to line foreign criminals’ pockets — is that much more infuriating when it comes at the expense of those dollars going to Americans who need it. I will continue to work for recovery of these criminally absconded funds and push for prevention of similar future fraud.

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Mike Crapo represents Idaho’s First Congressional District in the U.S. Senate. He can be reached at crapo.senate.gov.

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