White House Unveils $1.6 Billion Plan to Fight Covid Aid Fraud

The White House presented its plan for the goal on Thursday pandemic scammers and reclaim stolen relief funds distributed under both the Trump and Biden administrations.

A top White House official said the goal was to provide $600 million to investigate and prosecute systemic pandemic frauda similar amount to strengthen fraud prevention and $400 million to help victims of identity theft.

“The president wanted to make sure that we had a special and concerted effort to prosecute and punish the worst offenders of pandemic fraud,” Gene Sperling, who oversees the implementation of the White House’s US bailout plan, said on a call with reporters , which had a proposal preview.

While at least $2 billion has been recovered so far, according to data from the Government Accountability Office, some experts have assessed that Covid aid fraud could be more than a quarter of a trillion dollars. The Trump and Biden administrations handed out about $5 trillion in Covid aid.

Sperling said he will be on Capitol Hill to speak with key lawmakers Thursday about the proposal, adding that it will be part of the president’s budget, which is expected to be sent to Congress next week amid heightened tensions with Republicans over the debt limit .

However, Sperling struck an optimistic tone about winning over Republicans to secure bipartisan support for the proposal.

“I think they will see this as actual savings,” Sperling told reporters. “This is about increasing our [inspector generals’] and the ability of law enforcement to save taxpayer dollars.”

He also said he believes the proposal will end up paying for itself with the recovered funds.

House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., has said his panel will launch investigations into the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars lost to fraud when Covid aid was distributed.

“Right now, I have no confidence in the federal government’s ability to prevent fraud,” Comer said.

The White House is calling for the statute of limitations to be increased to 10 years for cases of serious, systemic pandemic fraud.

In an outline of its proposal, the White House said: “In the absence of additional resources, the regulatory community will be unable to investigate and prosecute the known caseload before the statute of limitations expires, and to pursue sophisticated cases that will require more time and resources .”

Sperling said: “It takes time to go after the most sophisticated people. We don’t just want to catch them, get their funds. We want to send the signal to them that you can run, but you can’t hide.”

Under the proposal, watchdogs for the Small Business Administration and the Labor Department would each get at least $100 million to hire long-term investigators to pursue cases of organized pandemic fraud and to support efforts led by the Justice Department’s chief pandemic fraud prosecutor.

Haywood Talcove, managing director of government at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, which contracts with states and the federal government on pandemic fraud prevention, said he is “very excited” about the White House’s proposal.

“Focusing on data sharing between agencies and states, while improving front-end identity protection, will improve the experience for those using public services while reducing the amount of time law enforcement spends investigating these crimes ,” Talcove said in a statement to NBC News.

Blake Hall, CEO of ID.me, which also works with states and the federal government on pandemic fraud prevention and identity verification, called the White House’s proposal a “huge step forward” in addressing a “national security issue.”

“We are pleased to see major investment in fraud and investigative activities so criminals will be held accountable,” Hall said in a statement to NBC News. “Given the involvement of nation-state-sponsored actors attacking benefit programs, pandemic fraud is a national security issues. We think the answer to pandemic-era fraud is obvious.”

Since the pandemic began, 1,044 people have pleaded guilty or been convicted of defrauding federal Covid aid programs, according to the Government Accountability Office. Another 609 have been charged.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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