Loveland Reporter-Herald

Biden wants $1.6B for fraud measures

- By Geoff Mulvihill

President Joe Biden’s administra­tion is asking Congress to approve more than $1.6 billion to help clean up the mess of fraud against the massive government coronaviru­s pandemic relief programs.

In a strategy announced Thursday, the administra­tion called for money and more time to prosecute cases, to put into place new ways to prevent identity theft and to help people whose identities were stolen.

On a call with reporters, White House American Rescue Plan coordinato­r Gene Sperling had hope that Congress, including the Gop-controlled House that is often hostile to the Democratic administra­tion, would see the spending as an investment.

“It’s just so clear and the evidence is so strong that a dollar smartly spent here will return to the taxpayers, or save, at least $10,” Sperling said, pointing to recoveries that have already happened. The U.S. Secret Service last year got back $286 million sent out in fraudulent­ly obtained loans through the Small Business Administra­tion.

Sperling said the request would be part of the budget proposal Biden is scheduled to make March 9 — but the bulk of it will be separate from the one-year appropriat­ion request. Details would need to be ironed out with Congress.

Soon after the swaths of the U.S. economy were shut down after the coronaviru­s hit the country in 2020, Congress began authorizin­g massive relief measures to help government­s, businesses and individual­s who were impacted. Relief measures totaled nearly $6 trillion. That’s more than the government spent annually before the pandemic.

Money went to boost unemployme­nt insurance programs, help those in the gig economy who lost work, cover government costs and keep businesses afloat.

“On the whole, those programs did enormous good,” Sperling said. “There were also cases where guardrails were unnecessar­ily lowered, which led to unnecessar­y and massive fraud.”

A congressio­nal committee found that financial technology companies did not properly screen applicants for the giant Paycheck Protection Program. Fraudulent claims for unemployme­nt benefits overwhelme­d state computer systems, which sometimes had trouble identifyin­g the fake ones while slowing down many legitimate filings. The Labor Department estimated there was $164 billion in improper unemployme­nt insurance payments alone — much of it to fraudsters

Many of the scams relied on fake or stolen personal informatio­n.

Family members awaited the results of DNA testing to identify victims of a train crash that killed nearly 60 people in Greece, as workers went on strike Thursday saying the rail system is outdated, underfunde­d and dangerous.

The government has blamed human error, and a railway official was charged with manslaught­er.

Emergency crews, meanwhile, inched through the mangled remains of passenger carriages in their search for the dead from Tuesday night’s head-on collision, which has left 57 confirmed dead — a number that rescuers fear will increase.

The collision of a passenger train and a freight train was the country’s deadliest ever, and more than 48 people remained hospitaliz­ed — with six in intensive care — most in the central Greek city of Larissa. spent a second day at the hospital awaiting results Thursday was Dimitris Bournazis, whose father and 15-year-old brother remain unaccounte­d for. He said phone calls to Italian-owned train operator Hellenic Train have been fruitless.

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