The extent of stimulus theft gets bigger by the day
The $6 trillion worth of federal stimulus money that washed through the economy in the pandemic’s wake created an obvious and enduring problem: how to make sure it didn’t end up in the hands of thieves.
As several reports and investigations over the last year or so have found, billions of those relief dollars were lost to scammers, foreign and domestic. And the losses just keep piling up:
“There is no question that the immense fraud that took place at the crush of the pandemic in 2020, particularly in small business loans and unemployment insurance, is the largest oversight challenge the Biden administration inherited,” said Gene Sperling, the president’s chief coordinator for stimulus spending, stressing that the administration is taking “significant steps to strengthen anti-fraud controls.”
Ground zero is the Small Business Administration:
The normally lumbering SBA moved at lightning speed to disburse roughly $1 trillion to cash-strapped firms, hoping to stanch the bleeding at a time when many companies were laying off workers in droves. But the agency’s approach, particularly during the Trump administration, also carried a steep cost, as the SBA did not put in place a wide array of policies that might have prevented significant waste, fraud and abuse.
But it’s just the beginning of the bad news:
With [the Paycheck Protection Program], for example, a report last January from the SBA’s inspector general found roughly 55,000 PPP loans worth more than $7 billion had gone to “potentially ineligible businesses.” That ultimately “placed taxpayer funds at risk of financial loss and delayed the amount of critical program capital available for eligible businesses” at the time.
About two months later, Ware and other watchdogs estimated the fuller range of potential fraud across PPP and the SBA’s economic stimulus programs came closer to $80 billion, telling lawmakers in written testimony at the time that he had grown concerned that agency remains “susceptible to significant fraud risks.”
And so on. The government can say it “saved’ the U.S economy…from government-mandated closures and restrictions. But it spurred and supported a crime wave whose costs may never be completely accounted for.