(Reuters) - President Joe Biden plans to ask Congress to provide $1.6 billion in new funding to tackle fraud tied to U.S. pandemic relief programs and help victims of identity theft, the White House said.
The push, led by White House adviser Gene Sperling, will seek to demonstrate renewed toughness on pandemic fraud ahead of promised investigations by House of Representatives Republicans on the trillions of dollars in COVID-19 pandemic aid approved under both former President Donald Trump, a Republican, and Biden, his Democratic successor.
The aid, among other things, helped pay for expanded unemployment benefits to workers and forgivable loans under the Paycheck Protection Program to companies if they kept workers employed.
The funding request includes $600 million to help investigate large-scale fraud by criminal syndicates, $600 million for fraud and identity theft protection, and $400 million to help victims who have had their identities stolen, according to the White House.
In addition, Biden wants Congress to increase the statute of limitations on serious pandemic unemployment insurance fraud to 10 years, the White House said.
The money would help triple the size of the COVID Strike Force teams created by the Justice Department. In one case, an investigation by the task force recovered $286 million in stolen pandemic relief funds, and investigators have identified several equally important cases, according to the White House.
The money would also help improve the website IdentityTheft.gov to help it provide individuals with a one-stop shop to report identity crimes and to receive personalized identity theft recovery assistance.
The U.S. is already probing many fraud cases pegged to federal assistance programs, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance and Medicare.
The federal government likely awarded about $5.4 billion in COVID aid to people with questionable Social Security numbers, a federal watchdog said in a report last month.
Sperling, who oversees the COVID aid response for the White House, told reporters the renewed focus on pandemic fraud has nothing to do with coming Republican investigations.
"We've been actively focused on this from day one," Sperling said.
He said he would begin meeting with lawmakers on Thursday to discuss the legislative package.
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Leslie Adler)
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