According to government inspectors general, at least $276 billion of the government funding that was supposed to go to COVID-19 relief efforts was either fraudulently taken or wasted.
Inspectors general from the Small Business Administration (SBA), Department of the Treasury, and Department of Labor (DOL) indicated as much during testimony that they provided on Thursday before the House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee.
The hearing was titled, "Waste, Fraud, and Abuse Go Viral: Inspectors General on Curing the Disease."
Sheldon Shoemaker, the SBA’s inspector general, called the fraud that the inspectors general found "the biggest fraud in a generation."
Both Shoemaker and Larry Turner, the inspector general of the DOL, provided estimated dollar amounts of the fraud and waste.
Turner, for his part, estimated that $76 billion of the funds given out by the DOL during the pandemic were fraudulently taken, and Turner added that the $76 billion estimate is "on the low end." It does not, for example, include an analysis of the funds that came from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
In addition to this "low end" $76 billion estimate, Turner found that another $100 billion was wasted in various ways, which already brings the amount of waste and fraud up to at least $176 billion.
Sheldon, though, during his testimony, also estimated that about $100 billion of the money that the SBA gave out during the COVID pandemic was also fraudulently taken. But, this figure also might be on the low end, according to Sheldon, because this does not include an analysis of other COVID relief measures, such as the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.
So, overall, we have a "low-end" estimate of $276 billion in COVID relief funds that was either fraudulently obtained or wastefully spent.
So far, we have covered the "waste, fraud, and abuse" part of the committee's hearing.
The question that remains is about "curing the disease." U.S. Rep. Greg Casar (D-TX), for example, asked Turner whether it might be worth the government resources to go after "fraudsters."
Turner, though, wasn't convinced that it would be. "Once fraud goes out of the door, it’s hard to get it back," he said.
This appears to be the sad reality of the situation.
The best that the government might be able to do at this point is to ensure that the fraud and waste that occurred during the COVID pandemic don't happen again.