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Chairman Smith Opening Statement – Oversight Subcommittee Hearing on Pandemic Fraud

October 19, 2023

As prepared for delivery.

“Thank you Chairman Schweikert and Ranking Member Pascrell.

“Part of our oversight responsibilities here in Congress is to assess when the fraudulent use of tax dollars occurs and account for what has been lost. But the American taxpayer also expects us to put an end to as much of that fraud as we can, to hold the fraudsters accountable, and better yet, stop the illegal activity before it happens.

“That is why I appreciate that today’s hearing is forward looking. We are focusing on not just the when and where but on the how and why fraud occurs because that’s how we get to the solutions that will protect the taxpayer and the rightful beneficiaries of these programs.

“The numbers are staggering. A recently released Government Accountability Office report pegs the cost of fraud in the pandemic-era unemployment insurance programs at $100 billion to $135 billion – doubling GAO’s previous estimate that the Comptroller General shared with this Committee in February. Some outside experts put the level of improper payments as high as $400 billion – and that’s just in the UI programs. As I noted in our hearing on this issue back in February of this year, this is the greatest theft of taxpayer dollars in American history.

“We also know the Employee Retention Tax Credit program has been an easy and convenient target for criminals seeking to defraud the government as well as small businesses – to such an extent that as was discussed at our Oversight hearing in July, the ERTC program is on the IRS’ ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of worst scams in the country. In fact, as of the end of July, the IRS has initiated 252 investigations covering over $2.8 billion of potentially fraudulent ERTC claims from 2020 to 2022.

“To be clear, the type of criminals we are talking about are not just home-grown fraudsters or lone wolves looking to prey on unsuspecting beneficiaries. We are talking about transnational, organized criminal enterprises. Moreover, we’ve found that in cities that were able to crack down on the UI fraud they saw occurring, violent crime in those same localities went down – meaning these were violent criminals committing this fraud. In Baltimore, they found that 60 percent of violent criminals were also committing some type of COVID-19 fraud. When they started prosecuting COVID-19 fraud cases, they saw a 20 percent reduction in homicides.

“I appreciate the fact that we have witnesses today from both within government and outside of government. With an estimated $280 billion in stolen COVID-19 relief funds, we need to be seeking input from as many experts as we can to bring as many perspectives as we can to build a more robust defense against fraud.

“I look forward to the solutions that will come from today’s discussions, and I yield back.”