House Republicans introduced legislation on Feb. 24 that aims to help recover billions of dollars of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits estimated to have been stolen by fraudsters during the pandemic.

The Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act was introduced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo., and House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky.

The two congressmen were backed by every Republican member of the Ways and Means Committee when introducing the bill. The measure aims to provide states with incentives to investigate and recover lost funds, fight and prevent future fraud, and extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting fraud.

“At a time when Americans were suffering from government lockdowns, hundreds of billions were being stolen from those in need,” Rep. Smith said. “Unemployment insurance theft has put American families in a terrible position, and taxpayers expect Congress to go after and recover every single possible dollar that was stolen by criminals and international crime rings.”

“This bill will recover stolen taxpayer money, help states ensure this scale of fraud never happens again, and help bring to justice those who committed these crimes,” he added.

Recent reports estimate that state UI programs – run with assistance from the Labor Department (DoL) – during the pandemic dished out more than $60 billion in fraudulent payments. That number could end up running higher.

Pandemic-era UI fraud has been a top priority for the Republican-led House in the 118th Congress. This new piece of legislation follows recent Oversight and Ways and Means hearings focused on the state of unemployment fraud.

“Earlier this month, Republicans held an oversight hearing with federal officials on the size, scale, and severity of the fraud,” says a House Ways and Means Committee press release for the new legislation. “They admitted they are still trying to determine how much money was lost to fraud and they expect to recover far less than what was stolen. For taxpayers who are struggling with inflation and working hard for their income, that is unacceptable.”

Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act boasts that it will protect taxpayers by allowing states to:

  • Keep 25 percent of recovered fraudulent overpayments of Federal funds;
  • Use recovered funds to improve program integrity and fraud prevention;
  • Keep five percent of state UI overpayments – conditioned on meeting data matching integrity conditions and dedicating those funds to preventing future fraud; and
  • Extend the statute of limitations for criminal charges from five to 10 years.

On the same day House lawmakers introduced this legislation, Republican senators sent a letter to the DoL asking for progress on the government’s efforts to prevent fraudulent COVID-19 funding claims.

President Biden has also noted that boosting the Federal government’s efforts to combat fraud in government relief programs during the COVID-19 pandemic is one of his top priorities.

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