About $100 billion in COVID-19 funds have been stolen

According to The Wall Street Journal,

Some $100 billion has potentially been stolen from Covid-19 relief programs designed to help individuals and businesses harmed by the pandemic, the U.S. Secret Service said.

The funds have “attracted the attention of individuals and organized criminal networks” world-wide, the agency said in a news release, though its estimate of stolen benefits represents just a fraction of the trillions of dollars in government relief provided since last year.

The Secret Service said it would work closely with a variety of federal agencies—including the Labor Department and Small Business Administration, which have key roles tracking and administering relief funds—to investigate and recover fraudulently disbursed funds.

The Secret Service said its estimate is based on public reports issued by internal government watchdogs, with the bulk of the potentially misused funds stemming from fraud tied to unemployment insurance. Those analyses are based on 2020 activity and could overstate the amount of actual fraud or stolen money, in part because they also include mistaken payments to ineligible recipients and not necessarily bad actors.

The Secret Service issued a revised statement on Wednesday afternoon warning of “potential fraudulent activity nearing $100 billion,” amending an earlier release that said “stolen benefits” and pointed to estimates totaling more than $100 billion.

Additionally, only $3.3 billion of the total misappropriated funds have been recovered.

To date, the Secret Service said, its probes into fraud related to unemployment insurance and SBA loans have led to the seizure of more than $1.2 billion and the return of more than $2.3 billion in fraudulently obtained funds. The service also said it has more than 900 active criminal investigations tied to specific pandemic-related relief funds.

This certainly should have been expected, considering that most of the programs developed during the pandemic were aimed at getting money to businesses and individuals very quickly and did not contain enough controls for eligibility.

While in this case, the sheer size of the fraud can be specifically attributed to the circumstances surrounding the size, timing, and structure of the programs, this should be a reminder that the government does not always spend our money wisely.

Fraud, waste, and abuse –– all at the expense of taxpayer money –– are usually part and parcel of most, if not all, government assistance programs. In Minnesota, for example, tens if not hundreds of millions in Medicaid and childcare funds have been wasted due to fraud.

We should be wary of any proposals that seek to create more big-spending programs that would entitle the government to waste even more of our money.