President Biden is calling on Congress to approve a $1.6 billion legislative package aimed at cracking down on fraud stemming from the government’s coronavirus pandemic relief programs. The measure aims to step up the federal capacity to investigate and prosecute fraud; improve efforts to prevent identity theft tied to the spate of pandemic benefit programs; and help victims of identity theft. Gene Sperling, a senior adviser to Biden, said he believes lawmakers of both parties can find common ground on the proposal, adding that Republicans have raised concern about waste, fraud, and abuse, the Wall Street Journal reports. He plans to brief members of Congress on the plan. The proposal comes as House Republicans have promised to conduct oversight investigations into how the Biden administration is spending trillions of dollars approved by Congress in recent years to help the U.S. recover from the pandemic.
In 2021, Biden signed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill that offered a $1,400 check to many Americans, an extension of a $300 weekly jobless-aid supplement, and a one-year expansion of the child tax credit that provided periodic payments for many households. The bill, the American Rescue Plan, passed Congress largely along party lines. The influx of federal money resulted in a wave of fraud that federal prosecutors continue to investigate. More than $250 million was allegedly stolen from a U.S. coronavirus pandemic aid program that fed low-income children. Biden's proposal asks Congress to approve $600 million to increase pandemic-fraud investigations and prosecutions. With that money, the administration hopes to set up at least 10 additional Justice Department “strike forces” to target the criminal organizations behind some of the biggest fraud cases. The administration also proposed providing additional money to the Labor Department and Small Business Administration inspectors general, as well as the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a panel of inspectors general from across the government that oversees pandemic-relief measures.