Sen Joni Ernst demands federal employees who stole COVID funds be fired
At the height of the pandemic, thousands of federal employees wrongly applied for and received COVID-related unemployment checks and business loans – GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa is calling for each of them to be fired.
The federal government doled out over $5 trillion to fight off the economic downfall brought on by Covid-19, including about $716 billion in state-administered unemployment benefits.
A report by the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, led by Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael Horowitz, found that thousands of federal employees had applied and been approved for pandemic loans that were intended for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program.
Thousands of others had collected unemployment even as they stayed on the government payroll. About three dozen government staffers even applied for the benefits through their work computer.
Sen Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) pointed to a report from the Department of Homeland (DHS) Security Inspector General’s office finding that some 2,000 DHS employees have been paid more than $2.6 million in fraudulent unemployment benefits.
The committee’s Pandemic Analytics Center of Excellence (PACE), built a database to compare pandemic loan applications filed with the Small Business Administration and run it up against a list of government employees to find leads to investigate.
‘So far, this analysis has helped six agency OIGs match tens of thousands of employees with SBA loans for which they were not eligible,’ read a PACE report submitted to Congress last month.
Ernst pointed to a report from the Department of Homeland (DHS) Security Inspector General’s office finding that some 2,000 DHS employees have been paid more than $2.6 million in fraudulent unemployment benefits. The OIG had found that 900 DHS employees were ineligible for the jobless benefits they claimed and another 900 were potentially ineligible.
Nearly three dozen employees filed unemployment claims from DHS systems, suggesting they were on the job while they were applying for the free cash.
Some 336 of the employees claiming to unemployed were actually making overtime pay. The employees worked under Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – the agency which oversaw the emergency unemployment payouts.
‘I hope this money can be recovered, and, to deter those who might ever think of trying to do this again in the future, those who abused the public trust will have their federal employment terminated,’ Ernst said
Employees at other agencies, including Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Amtrak, and the U.S. Postal Service were also caught collecting beefed-up unemployment checks and a paycheck.
‘In addition to fleecing taxpayers, these unscrupulous bureaucrats have also tarnished the reputation of the other dedicated civil servants, many of whom worked long hours in essential jobs during the pandemic,’ Ernst, a member of the Small Business Committee, said in her letter.
The Iowa senator gave the double-dipping federal employees her January 2023 Squeal Award – which she doles out for wasteful government spending.
Ernst in her letter called on Horowitz to identify every federal worker who improperly received unemployment checks or other forms of COVID aid for which they were not eligible and recover the money.
It’s not yet clear just how much taxpayer money was wasted on fraudulent payouts -a and Ernst is calling for a formal investigation to come up with a number.
‘I would encourage you to conduct a similar review to determine how many unscrupulous bureaucrats wrongfully took advantage of the federal pandemic unemployment and lost wages assistance programs,’ the letter reads. ‘There is ample evidence that thousands of federal employees working for various federal agencies may have fraudulently applied for and received payments from these programs.’
‘I hope this money can be recovered, and, to deter those who might ever think of trying to do this again in the future, those who abused the public trust will have their federal employment terminated,’ Ernst told Horowitz.
Last August, Blake Hall, CEO of fraud prevention service ID.Me, predicted half of all COVID unemployment payouts were wasted on fraud.
An investigation by the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Labor led to the indictment of more than 1,000 for unemployment fraud charges and the conviction of 400 so far.
Audits by officials in Louisiana, Georgia and Indiana have also found hundreds of state and local employees who applied for and received unemployment benefits.
Horowitz is expected to testify on abuse of pandemic funds at the Oversight Committee’s first hearing entitled, ‘Federal Pandemic Spending: A Prescription for Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.’