GOP senators request report on fraud, abuse of COVID-19 unemployment insurance programs

U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Todd Young (R-IN), and Steve Daines (R-MT) recently asked the Biden administration to report on efforts to recover fraudulent benefits obtained through the temporary COVID-19 unemployment insurance (UI) programs, which they said have faced waste, fraud, and abuse.

“As Congress works to continue its oversight of the billions of taxpayer dollars that was spent throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that we identify to what degree efforts to recoup fraudulent COVID-19 UI benefits have been successful,” wrote the senators in a Feb. 21 letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Martin Walsh.

Since the creation of the COVID-19 UI programs in March 2020 through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the senators wrote that there have been multiple reports of suspected UI fraud.

Most recently, for instance, the Labor Department inspector general testified that nearly $200 billion of COVID-19 UI benefits could have been improper or fraudulent, according to their letter. 

“As members of Congress, we continue to be concerned about the unprecedented amount of COVID-19 UI benefits that were fraudulent, and, presently, we are seeking insight into the effectiveness of… efforts by your agencies in recouping fraudulent COVID-19 UI benefits,” wrote the lawmakers.

Sens. Thune, Young, and Daines asked Garland and Walsh to answer several questions, such as how many individuals have been indicted since the enactment of the COVID-19 UI programs for obtaining or attempting to obtain fraudulent COVID-19 UI benefits.

Among several other questions, they also asked of the fraudulent COVID-19 UI benefits that the federal government has yet to recoup, what the dollar amount is that’s believed to have gone to both U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens.

Along with U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, and U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who also signed the letter, the senators also asked what additional statutory authorities would be necessary to improve the federal government’s effectiveness in recouping fraudulent COVID-19 UI benefits.