$5.4 billion in covid aid may have gone to firms using suspect Social Security numbers



The U.S. government may have awarded about $5.4 billion in coronavirus aid to small businesses with potentially ineligible Social Security numbers, the latest indication that Washington’s rush earlier in the pandemic opened the door to widespread waste, fraud and abuse.

The top watchdog overseeing stimulus spending — called the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, or PRAC — offered the new estimate in a warning issued Monday and shared early with the Washington Post. It comes as House Republicans prepare to hold their first hearing this week to examine the roughly $5 trillion in total federal stimulus aid approved since 2020.

The alleged wave of hatred was directed at two of the government’s most generous emergency initiatives, the Paycheck Protection Program, known as PPP, and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, known as EIDL. Started under President Donald Trump — and administered by the beleaguered Small Business Administration — the roughly $1 trillion in loans and grants were designed to help cash-strapped businesses stay afloat during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

But the money also served as a source for criminal activity, as malicious actors took advantage of SBA and its poor oversight to incriminate Washington for huge sums. In the latter example, the PRAC found that SBA failed to prevent a wave of applications from collecting federal money using suspicious social security numbers.

The PRAC studied more than 33 million applicants and discovered more than 221,000 ineligible social security numbers on applications for assistance. That included thousands of cases where, for example, the number itself was “unissued” by the government, or it didn’t match the correct name and birth information.

More than a quarter of those applications, using nearly 70,000 suspect social security numbers, were approved between April 2020 and October 2022 despite the suspicious information — and the government lent those applicants about $5.4 billion, the report said.

The Covid money trail

It was the biggest burst of emergency spending in U.S. history: two years, six laws, and more than $5 trillion aimed at breaking the death grip of the coronavirus pandemic. The money saved the US economy from collapse and put vaccines into millions of guns, but it also provoked unprecedented levels of fraud, abuse and opportunism.

In a years-long investigation, The Washington Post follows the covid money trail to find out what happened to all that money.

read more

The revelations confirmed the massive task facing the government in overseeing more than $5 trillion in emergency aid approved since 2020. The risk of loss is especially high with SBA, which already accounts for more than 93 percent of its PPP recipients.

The fraud is also likely to excite GOP critics who initially helped pass PPP, EIDL and other major pandemic programs. The House Oversight Committee — now headed by Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) — will hold a hearing on covid fraud Wednesday with testimony from PRAC director Michael Horowitz.

The SBA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Speaking Monday at an event hosted by the National Press Club, Comer seemed to predict his growing anxiety about the fate of the country’s stimulus dollars.

“I don’t think history will be favorable to the PPP loan program,” he said.

This is a breaking news story. It will be updated.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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