WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Thursday asked the Administration to accelerate the spending of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money and urged close monitoring of stimulus dollars to prevent fraud and abuse.
At a hearing entitled “Follow the Money: An Update on Stimulus Spending, Transparency, and Fraud Prevention” – the fifth in a series held by the Committee – Administration witnesses testified that they have taken numerous steps to streamline red tape to allow for faster spending of stimulus dollars and to ferret out fraud and abuse.
“Most economists agree that the stimulus program has helped halt the economic slide and is pointing us to recovery, but a lot of people, understandably, are asking if we could do more,” Lieberman said. “I have asked if we can speed up the process so that more citizens feel the positive effects that we intended more quickly, while of course ensuring that taxpayer money is not wasted. I’ve also urged continued vigilance and aggressive enforcement against fraud. Scams directly related to the stimulus are inevitable and occurring because, unfortunately, tough economic times are always accompanied by people eager to take advantage of other people’s misery.”
Collins said she was very concerned about scams that deceptively use the federal stimulus program to push questionable products, targeting citizens in economic distress. “These crooks are smart and opportunistic,” she said. “In their mail offers, they use phrases such as ‘stimulus grants’ and ‘government funding’ to confuse victims. They manufacture forms that have an ‘official’ look to them, when in fact, the ‘services’ offered are not connected to any government agency or to the Recovery Act. With a combination of education and enforcement, we can help prevent exploitation and stop scams. This hearing should serve as a warning to con artists that our government is on the lookout. We will alert citizens. We will expose scams. And criminals will be prosecuted. Preventing fraud in the execution of stimulus funding is a key element to the ultimate success of the Recovery Act.”
The Senators pointed out that much has been accomplished by ARRA. For example, 95 percent of working Americans have seen their paychecks increase because of the Make Work Pay tax credit that has put about $23.2 billion into the pockets of American families so far. And in total, more than $62.5 billion has been pumped into the economy through tax relief under the Recovery Act, with $225.5 billion still to come.
Nearly 334,000 new homeowners have claimed the Recovery Act’s $8,000 First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit and many people in the real estate business – agents and brokers – say this provision helped steady the housing market as we have seen new home sales increase for four months in a row.
Over 6,700 highway projects have been approved and more than 2,200 are underway. Hundreds of airports across the country have been awarded funds for improvements, and about $1.1 billion in Amtrak improvements are on the way.
The Recovery Act is also helping families through these tough times with extended Unemployment Insurance, increased Social Security Payments, more food stamp assistance and aid to states through increased Medicaid grants.
Recovery Act payments to the states through the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage Program and the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund have helped states keep 135,000 teachers and 5,000 law enforcement officers on the job, allowing states and municipalities to avoid even more drastic cuts in services.
Witnesses at the hearing included: Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget rob Nabors; Chairman of the Federal Trade Commisison Jon Leobowitz; Chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board Earl Devaney; and Managing Director for Strategic Issues at the Government Accountability Office Chris Mihm.