EXCLUSIVE: Republican lawmakers on Thursday probed the Biden administration over billions in missing COVID-19 relief money, demanding Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen answer what the White House is doing to address one of the largest frauds in U.S. history.
In a letter addressed to Yellen that was first obtained by FOX Business, House Ways and Means Republicans said there have been "numerous examples of misuse, fraud and abuse of funds" stemming from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that Democrats signed into law in 2021 without any GOP votes. The spending bill included $1,400 stimulus checks for millions of Americans, as well as expanded unemployment benefits and about $500 billion in unfettered aid for state and local governments.
The Republican lawmakers cited several exafmples of fraud: Officials in Broward County, Florida, spent about $140 million in pandemic relief money to break ground on a luxury hotel; Dutchess County in New York pledged $12 million for renovations of a minor league baseball stadium; and Arizona officials allocated $7.2 million toward horse racing.
They also noted that congressional oversight efforts uncovered that stimulus checks went to half a million federal prisoners (that is also true of the checks delivered under the legislation signed by former President Donald Trump), as well as Japanese citizens living in Japan and deceased individuals.
"This waste of American taxpayer dollars undoubtedly demonstrates a failure of government and a failure of leadership," the letter said. "The Biden administration must account for where and how it spent these taxpayer dollars."
It was written byr Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo.
The lawmakers requested that Yellen provide both the House Committee on the Budget and the Ways and Means Committee with several documents about the fraud, including the number of stimulus payments delivered to incarcerated individuals, undocumented immigrants and dead people. They also demanded information on any efforts by the Biden administration to recoup the improper payments.
"As a result of the spending in the [American Rescue Plan], consumer prices have increased at the fastest rate in 40 years," Brady and Smith wrote. "It is imperative that the American people have a full and honest accounting of where their money went and how it was spent in addition to what attempts – if any – the Biden administration has made to recoup or at least account for this egregious waste of taxpayer dollars."
President Biden signed into law two bipartisan bills over the summer aimed at holding individuals accountable if they commit fraud under pandemic relief programs. The measures extended the time period that prosecutors have to prosecute individuals who committed fraud through either the Paycheck Protection Program – the small business loan forgiveness program – and the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.
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 Trump, according to a COVID money tracker published by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington.
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.
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.
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.