Coronavirus Roundup: New COVID Datasets and Strike Teams Are Targeting Fraud
There’s a lot to keep track of. Here’s a list of this week’s news updates and stories you may have missed.
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, one of the three oversight bodies created by the CARES Act, launched a new data initiative this week to display information about COVID funding.
“These new agency funding profiles enable the public to see the total amount of pandemic relief money that nearly 40 federal agencies received, and the specific programs funded,” said a press release. “They also include relevant oversight work from federal offices of inspectors general, whose audits and investigations alert the public and policymakers of any fraud, waste, and abuse.”
Robert Westbrooks, executive director of the committee, said “this new website feature reflects our dual responsibilities of transparency and oversight.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
Despite various layers of control from the Small Business Administration, individuals with foreign IP addresses were able to access the application system for the economic injury disaster loan program for COVID relief, the agency’s watchdog said in a report this week. “SBA received millions of attempts to submit COVID-19 EIDL applications from foreign IP addresses and stopped most of them; however, the agency processed more than 233,000 of these applications from March 20, 2020 to November 12, 2021, our review period,” said the report. “Although applicants that reside overseas may qualify for this assistance, transnational crime entities in foreign countries have fraudulently obtained funding from this and other U.S. programs in the past.”
On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced it established three COVID fraud strike force teams, which will operate out of the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Southern District of Florida, the District of Maryland, and jointly between the Central and Eastern Districts of California. “These strike force teams will build on the department’s historic enforcement efforts to deter, detect, and disrupt pandemic fraud wherever it occurs,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland, in a statement. “Since the start of this pandemic, the Justice Department has seized over $1.2 billion in relief funds that criminals were attempting to steal and charged over 1,500 defendants with crimes in federal districts across the country, but our work is far from over.”
Members of the teams include prosecutors and agents from the Labor, SBA, Homeland Security inspector general offices, FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery are also helping.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory committee on immunization practices will meet next month, during which a vote is planned to make recommendations on the “child/adolescent immunization schedule and COVID -19 vaccines,” which could mean the updated booster shot, per a notice in the Federal Register. Also, a vote on Vaccines for Children (a federally funded program that provides free vaccines to children who might not otherwise get vaccines) on COVID-19 vaccine is scheduled.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas announced on Tuesday what it believes to be the country’s first False Claims Act settlement with a Paycheck Protection Program lender. The False Claims Act is a Civil War-era law to protect the government from being defrauded.
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