Nearly $163 billion of COVID-19 relief funds have either been stolen through theft or fraud or have gone missing since the start of the pandemic, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.).  

With a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, Rep. Comer is making this issue his priority on the Oversight Committee. According to the Department of Labor, COVID-19 related fraud, mismanagement, and abuse has cost up to $163 billion since the beginning of the pandemic.  

Representative Comer asserted that we need to find ways to hold people accountable and retrieve these stolen taxpayer funds: 

There has been massive amounts of fraud. Like we’ve heard from reports from the media, I fear there has been massive amounts of fraud. We want to know if there’s a way to claw back any of this money — if there’s a way to hold people accountable for wrongdoing, and what steps these different government agencies have done to prevent this in the future.” 

Rep. Comer is trying to ensure that government agencies take steps to prevent fraud in the future, though he is doubtful that the federal government can do so, and that no meaningful steps have been taken since the pandemic began to combat fraud, explaining that he has “no confidence in the federal government’s ability to prevent fraud.” 

Now, Rep. Comer is focused on trying to find individuals and organizations that defrauded COVID-19 relief money during the pandemic, and to recover as much of that money as possible. 

Other possibilities being considered are legislative initiatives to prevent fraud in similar benefits packages being passed in the future, and to gain a better understanding of what guardrails and accountability norms were lacking during the pandemic.  

The Heritage Foundation reported that the government’s rate of improper payment increased from 2.9% in 2019 to 7.1% in 2021. A major source of this increase was the $600 weekly bonuses for unemployment, of which 40%, $357 billion in spending, went to people who were not unemployed. Unemployment insurance benefits were also severely defrauded during the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, 21 states have reported $58.4 billion in UI fraud, though the total amount is still unknown. 

After an unprecedented amount of social welfare funding was enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting theft and misplacement of funds are finally being calculated and reported. In the new Congress, members such as Rep. Comer are now taking action to reclaim stolen and lost funds, hold accountable those responsible, and ensure that government agencies implement necessary changes to prevent similar incidents of fraud and misuse from occurring again.