Inspectors ask for authority to go after more COVID fraud

May 31, 2022, 10:30 AM | Updated: 11:58 am

Inspectors general need more authority to go after fraud in the COVID-19 relief programs, the independent committee overseeing federal pandemic relief spending said Tuesday.

The agencies watchdogs’ authority to administratively prosecute fraudsters is limited to fraud of $150,000 or less from COVID-19 relief programs and the Department of Justice is too busy for cases under $1 million– a gap that must be closed, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee said.

Michael Horowitz, head of the committee and the inspector general of the Department of Justice, said the $150,000 threshold is far too low given the scope of the fraud in programs set up to help businesses and people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. He’s asking Congress to modify provisions in the law on fraud committed against the federal government, to raise the maximum amount of a fraud claim that may be handled administratively to $1 million.

The request was highlighted in the committee’s semiannual report to Congress released Tuesday.

“It can’t be the case that people come away from this thinking there’s a certain level of fraud that’s just OK, or a certain level of improper payments that’s just OK,” Horowitz said in an interview with The Associated Press before the report was released. “We don’t believe that as IGs, and we want to get to the bottom of that. So it’s a very important tool and every dollar matters.”

Out of more than $5 trillion in pandemic relief spending, more than 1 million awards under $1 million have been given out, according to the committee.

Inspectors general nationwide are focused on multi-million dollar cases of alleged fraud that are turned over to the Department of Justice for prosecution. Horowitz said he was not aware of any cases being brought for below $150,000, though he does know of cases that they would like to prosecute administratively involving hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most U.S. attorneys would not pursue cases for under $1 million because they are overwhelmed with other fraud cases, he added.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is sponsoring a bill that would make the change. It has bipartisan support, including from co-sponsor Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee was created by Congress in March 2020. It brings together the inspectors general offices to oversee pandemic relief emergency spending and investigate fraud and improper payments spread out among more than 400 programs implemented by 40 federal agencies.

Its report to Congress also stressed the need to better use the data the federal government already has, and improve data collection, particularly when the prime recipient of a grant shares it with sub-recipients to follow the funding from the federal to the local level.

Billions in loans were paid to potentially ineligible recipients at the beginning of the pandemic because the Small Business Administration didn’t check the Treasury Department’s “do not pay” list, the report said, and billions went to applicants with foreign IP addresses. Horowitz said “simple data matching” at the agency level should’ve flagged hundreds of applications using the same phone number from a gas station in Texas before the committee found it.

“That shouldn’t be the case, right? An agency should be able to figure that out,” he said. “That’s not sophisticated data analytics.”

Horowitz said agencies have substantially improved their ability to verify eligibility for pandemic relief payments, but “there is still a significant way to go.” That prompted the committee to set up a data analytics center, which it has asked Congress to keep in place to use when the federal government responds to future emergencies with relief spending.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Protesters stand outside of the Senate chamber at the Indiana Statehouse on Feb. 22, 2023, i...

Associated Press

LGBTQ+ Americans are under attack, Human Rights Campaign declares in state of emergency warning

The Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. on Tuesday.

1 day ago

FILE - People wait in line outside the Supreme Court in Washington to listen to oral arguments in a...

Associated Press

Supreme Court opened the door to states’ voting restrictions. Now a new ruling could widen them.

Within hours of a U.S. Supreme Court decision dismantling a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, Texas lawmakers announced plans to implement a strict voter ID law that had been blocked by a federal court. Lawmakers in Alabama said they would press forward with a similar law that had been on hold.

1 day ago

Gavel (Pexels Photo)...

Associated Press

Ex-teacher sentenced to prison for making death threat against Arizona legislator

A former Tucson middle school teacher was sentenced Tuesday to 2 ½ years in prison after pleading guilty to making a death threat against Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers.

1 day ago

FILE - Police officers stand outside a Target store as a group of people protest across the street,...

Associated Press

Pride becomes a minefield for big companies, but many continue their support

Many big companies, including Target and Bud Light's parent, are still backing Pride events in June despite the minefield that the monthlong celebration has become for some of them.

2 days ago

FILE - Then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden plays music on a phone as he arrives to spe...

Associated Press

Biden, looking to shore up Hispanic support, faces pressure to get 2024 outreach details right

Joe Biden vowed in 2020 to work “like the devil” to energize Hispanic voters, and flew to Florida seven weeks before Election Day to do just that.

2 days ago

Editorial members of the Austin American-Statesman's Austin NewsGuild picket along the Congress Ave...

Associated Press

Correction: US-Gannett Walkout story

Journalists at two dozen local newspapers across the U.S. walked off the job Monday to demand an end to painful cost-cutting measures and a change of leadership at Gannett, the country's biggest newspaper chain.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles



Here are the biggest tips to keep your AC bill low this summer

PHOENIX — In Arizona during the summer, having a working air conditioning unit is not just a pleasure, but a necessity. No one wants to walk from their sweltering car just to continue to be hot in their home. As the triple digits hit around the Valley and are here to stay, your AC bill […]



Why drug-free weight loss still matters

Wanting to lose weight is a common goal for many people as they progress throughout life, but choosing between a holistic approach or to take medicine can be a tough decision.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

Inspectors ask for authority to go after more COVID fraud