Biden pushing more COVID relief but is silent on billions lost to fraud

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President Biden is pushing Congress to approve another $22.5 billion in new emergency aid to combat COVID-19 – even as the White House remains quiet on the billions siphoned off by scammers from past relief measures.

Administration officials have said that more money is needed to bolster ongoing relief efforts, with the Office of Management and Budget earlier this month requesting $18.25 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services and $4.25 billion for the State Department and United States Agency for International Department.

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Biden made a fresh plea on Wednesday for more funding, warning that without another influx of money, the U.S. will no longer be able to provide key programs like COVID testing, vaccination and treatment operations for uninsured Americans. 

"Without funding, we're not going to be able to sustain the testing capacity beyond the month of June," Biden said in prepared remarks. "And if we fail to invest, we leave ourselves vulnerable if another wave of the virus hits."

The dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Oct. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite / AP Newsroom)

He urged Congress to allocate additional money for pandemic response efforts, noting the U.S. risks being unprepared if future variants begin spreading rapidly. 

"We cannot allow that to happen. Congress, we need to secure additional supplies now. Now," Biden said. "We can't wait until we find ourselves in the midst of another surge to act. It'll be too late."

But lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have been slow to approve more money for the effort as COVID-19 infections drop to their lowest level since July, with some Republicans demanding that the White House account for the trillions previously allotted to pandemic relief measures. 

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At the beginning of March, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, led 35 GOP lawmakers in sending a letter to the Biden team questioning how much of previous monies have been spent.

"Since passage of the American Rescue Plan in February, questions are mounting about where exactly the additional money has gone," the letter said.

In the span of just two years, Congress unleashed a torrent of federal money to shield the economy from the coronavirus pandemic, approving roughly $6 trillion in relief measures. Lawmakers approved about $2 trillion under Biden and $4.1 trillion under former President Trump, according to a COVID money tracker published by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington. 

President Joe Biden speaks about America’s response to COVID-19 from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. (Photographer: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The majority of the money allocated for emergency spending – close to $4 trillion – stemmed from two pieces of legislation: the CARES Act, passed in March 2020, and the American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021. The remaining money came from the Response and Relief Act (December 2020), Families First Coronavirus Response Act (March 2020) and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (April 2020).

There was also a sizable chunk of emergency money for things like the Paycheck Protection Program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program and another program established to dole out boosted unemployment benefits that was stolen by criminals.

Prosecutors have called the theft of hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money intended to aid those suffering as a result of the coronavirus pandemic the largest fraud in U.S. history. 

The Secret Service estimated late last year that roughly $100 billion has been stolen from COVID-19 relief funds, a figure that's based on Secret Service cases as well as data from the Labor Department and the Small Business Administration.

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That figure notably does not include COVID-19 fraud cases prosecuted by the Justice Department or any fraudulent activity involving the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. In all, at least 3% of the total $3.4 trillion in federal pandemic aid has been stolen by scammers, showing the "sheer size of the pot is enticing to the criminals," the Secret Service said.

"Every state has been hit, some harder than others," said Roy Dotson, assistant special agent in charge. "The Secret Service is hitting the ground running, trying to recover everything we can, including funds stolen from both federal and state programs."

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