Portman, Crapo Introduce Legislation to Boost Efforts to Recover Billions in Fraudulent Pandemic Unemployment Payments

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Mike Crapo (R-ID), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, announced the introduction of the Chase COVID Unemployment Fraud Act to recover funds from fraudulent pandemic unemployment payments and provide incentives for states to recover fraudulent payments. The legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mike Braun (R-IN), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Steve Daines (R-MT), Deb Fischer (R-NE), John Kennedy (R-LA), James Lankford (R-OK), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Jim Risch (R-ID), Mitt Romney (R-UT), John Thune (R-SD), and Pat Toomey (R-PA).

With only approximately $4 billion in unemployment fraud recovered so far of the roughly $163 billion estimated, the legislation would jumpstart efforts to claw back American taxpayer funds and pursue recovery of fraudulent payments by ensuring aggressive identification, investigation, and prosecution of criminal fraud in pandemic unemployment programs. Republican leaders in the House, led by Kevin Brady (R-TX), Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced identical legislation last month.

Portman has led other efforts in the Senate to ensure the robust oversight of federal COVID-19 relief spending. In June, Portman and Crapo led a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a detailed accounting of the $350 billion of COVID-19 relief funds appropriated to governments of states, localities, territories and tribes under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). In March, he questioned government oversight officials and called for an examination of massive COVID-19 spending fraud during a Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee hearing. At the hearing, Portman highlighted that out of the $5 trillion spent in response to COVID-19, up to $400 billion has been stolen, calling it the biggest fraud ever committed against the American people.

“The fraud associated with pandemic unemployment programs reached staggering levels,” Ranking Member Portman said.  “Billions of hard-working Americans’ taxpayer dollars that were meant to help out-of-work Americans instead went to criminals and cheats.  This legislation will give the states the incentives and tools necessary to recover this stolen money.”

“The Administration needs to step up and join us in detecting and preventing the massive fraud in federal unemployment insurance programs that we have seen, including systemic fraud, internationally organized criminal fraud rings, and other threats to our systems, programs and the federal budget,” said Ranking Member Crapo.

NOTE: The White House estimated that 19 percent of total COVID unemployment insurance payments were lost to fraud–offering a low estimate of roughly $80 billion.  By contrast, the Department of Labor’s estimate puts that number much higher. In May 2022, the Washington Post reported that an estimated $163 billion were siphoned away by fraudsters, and that if the government’s best estimate is accurate, only 2.4 percent of wrongful payments have been recovered. 

Text of the legislation can be found here.