Biden seeks $1.6 billion to tackle COVID aid fraud ahead of Republican probes

By Jarrett Renshaw

(Reuters) – President Joe Biden plans to ask Congress for $1.6 billion in new funding to address fraud related to US pandemic aid programs and help victims of identity theft, the White House said.

The campaign, led by White House adviser Gene Sperling, will try to crack down on pandemic fraud again in anticipation of promised investigations by House Republicans into the trillions of dollars in COVID-19 pandemic aid that has been approved under both former President Donald Trump, a Republican, and Biden, his Democratic successor.

Among other things, the aid helped pay expanded unemployment benefits to workers and forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans to companies if they kept workers in employment.

The funding request includes $600 million to help investigate large-scale fraud by criminal syndicates, $600 million to protect against fraud and identity theft, and $400 million to help victims whose identities have been stolen, the White House said.

In addition, Biden wants Congress to increase the statute of limitations for serious pandemic unemployment insurance fraud to 10 years, the White House said.

The money would help triple the size of the COVID Strike Force teams set up by the Justice Department. In one case, an investigation by the task force recovered $286 million in stolen pandemic relief funds, and investigators have identified several equally significant cases, according to the White House.

The money would also help improve the website so that individuals can provide a one-stop shop to report identity crimes and receive personalized identity theft recovery assistance.

The US already investigates many fraud cases related to federal aid programs, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance and Medicare.

The federal government likely awarded about $5.4 billion in COVID aid to people with questionable Social Security numbers, a federal watchdog said in a report last month.

Sperling, who oversees the COVID relief response for the White House, told reporters that the newfound focus on pandemic fraud has nothing to do with upcoming Republican investigations.

“We’ve been actively focused on this from day one,” Sperling said.

He said he would begin a meeting with lawmakers on Thursday to discuss the legislative package.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia; editing by Tim Ahmann and Leslie Adler)

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