President Biden is urging Congress to approve an additional $22.5 billion in new emergency aid to fight COVID-19 — even as the White House remains silent on the billions siphoned off by crooks from past relief efforts.
Government officials have said more funding is needed to support ongoing relief efforts, with the Office of Management and Budget asking $18.25 billion earlier this month for the Department of Health and Human Services and $4.25 billion for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Department. †
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Biden made a new plea for more funding on Wednesday, warning that without another influx of money, the US will no longer be able to provide key programs such as COVID testing, vaccination and treatment surgeries for uninsured Americans.
“Without funding, we won’t be able to sustain testing capacity beyond June,” Biden said in prepared remarks. “And if we don’t invest, we’ll be vulnerable if another wave of the virus hits.”
He urged Congress to allocate additional funds to pandemic-related efforts, noting that the US risks being unprepared if future variants begin to proliferate rapidly.
“We can’t let that happen. Congress, we need to secure additional supplies now. Now,” Biden said. “We can’t wait to be in the middle of a new wave to intervene. It will be too late.”
But lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have been slow to approve more money for the effort as COVID-19 infections plummet to their lowest level since July, with some Republicans demanding the White House account for the trillions previously allocated to pandemic emergency response.
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In early March, Senator Mitt Romney, Utah, led 35 GOP lawmakers in sending a letter to the Biden team, asking how much of the earlier money was spent.
“Since the approval of the US bailout plan in February, questions have grown about where exactly the extra money has gone,” the letter said.
In just two years, Congress unleashed a torrent of federal money to protect the economy from the coronavirus pandemic, passing about $6 trillion in emergency measures. Lawmakers approved about $2 trillion under Biden and $4.1 trillion under former President Trumpaccording to a COVID money seeker published by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan organization based in Washington.
Most of the money allocated for emergency spending — nearly $4 trillion — came from two pieces of legislation: the CARES Act, passed in March 2020, and the U.S. bailout 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 significant portion of the emergency money for things like the Paycheck Protection Program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, and another program designed to hand out increased unemployment benefits stolen by criminals.
Prosecutors have called the theft of hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money intended to help those suffering as a result of the coronavirus pandemic the biggest fraud in US history.
The Secret Service estimated late last year that about $100 billion was stolen from COVID-19 relief funds, a figure based on Secret Service cases and data from the Labor Department and the Small Business Administration.
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Notably, that figure does not include COVID-19 fraud cases prosecuted by the Department of Justice or any fraudulent activity related to the US $1.9 trillion bailout. In all, at least 3% of the total $3.4 trillion in federal pandemic aid has been stolen by scammers, showing that “the size of the pot is attractive 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 taking off and trying to get back everything we can, including money stolen from both federal and state programs.”