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.


Colorado River settlement center of new Navajo Nation push...

Associated Press

Tribes say their future is at stake as they push for Congress to consider Colorado River settlement

Navajo officials are celebrating the signing of legislation outlining a proposed Colorado River settlement that would ensure water rights.

3 days ago

Arizona doctors California abortions...

Associated Press

Arizona doctors can come to California to perform abortions under new law signed by Gov. Newsom

Arizona doctors can temporarily come to California to perform abortions for their patients under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

3 days ago

Father convicted of first-degree murder in northern Arizona...

Associated Press

Arizona man convicted of first-degree murder in starvation death of 6-year-old son

A northern Arizona father was convicted of first-degree murder Thursday in the 2020 starvation death of his 6-year-old son.

4 days ago

Former President Donald Trump sits in a courtroom next to his lawyer Todd Blanche before the start ...

Associated Press

Trump hush money trial enters new phase after defense rests without testimony from former president

Donald Trump's hush money trial is now closer to the moment when the jury will begin deciding the former president's fate.

6 days ago

UoA student convicted of first-degree murder after killing professor...

Associated Press

Former Arizona grad student convicted of first-degree murder in 2022 shooting of professor

A former University of Arizona grad student was convicted of first-degree murder after fatally shooting a professor on campus two years ago.

6 days ago

Rudy Giuliani bankruptcy filing defamation lawsuit...

Associated Press

Ex-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona’s Kelli Ward plead not guilty in fake elector case

Giuliani appeared remotely for the arraignment that was held in a Phoenix courtroom. His trial will take place in October.

6 days ago

Sponsored Articles



Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.



Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

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