Washington (PAI) — The federal government’s effort to help the millions of people harmed — physically, economically or both — by the coronavirus pandemic suffers from myriad problems, a new independent report says.
And the non-partisan Government Accountability Office adds that in states’ own rush to get jobless aid to people, such as gig workers, who don’t qualify for regular unemployment benefits, many states paid close to weekly minimum benefits, vowing to catch up later.
Not only that, but in October, for the first time since the pandemic began, the number of people businesses reported to be permanent job losers due to coronavirus-forced layoffs (3.7 million) exceeded the number businesses said are just on temporary layoff (3.2 million).
The report, “Urgent Actions Needed to Better Ensure an Effective Federal Response to COVID-19,” makes 11 key recommendations to agencies to improve the federal anti-pandemic effort by tightening up controls and auditing but it does not cast blame on political appointees of the GOP Trump regime.
But President Donald Trump’s Small Business Administration and Treasury Department – prime distributors of government funds to business – are notably behind, the report says. The GAO also wants lawmakers to hold executive branch agencies’ feet to the fire.
“To hold agencies accountable and increase transparency, Congress should consider, in any future legislation allocating relief funds, designating all executive agency programs and activities making more than $100 million in disbursements of funds as ‘susceptible to significant improper payments’”— to firms that don’t deserve them or people who commit fraud — and require tight controls, the GAO said.
Those safeguards in the next aid package — an idea the Senate’s ruling Republicans now reject — would monitor when and how pandemic aid money is spent, and, in the case of the $670 billion Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program corporate subsidy, what it’s spent on.
MOST OF THE FUNDS WENT TO BIG BUSINESSES
A subsequent lawsuit forced disclosure that big firms got most of the funds. The GAO says the firms were supposed to spend the money to keep workers on the job, but weren’t required to prove they actually did so. Neither did airlines, who got a separate subsidy, the GAO said.
One person has already pled guilty to conspiring to defraud the PPP program by getting 18 loans for four shell companies, to pay non-existent workers. He grabbed $1.4 million before getting caught. Another 130 people are “under investigation,” said the GAO.
While GAO does not cast blame, Trump and his minions must shoulder it, as Trump first publicly denied the virulence of the coronavirus pandemic—even though he knew otherwise — then predicted it would disappear by summer, hawked fake cures and, overall, dumped the entire responsibility for battling the modern-day plague on the states, without money or supplies to meet it.
As a result, a close reading shows, the federal response to the coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, was irregular, often disconnected, unfocused and weak.
BUILD BACK BETTER
Democratic President-Elect Joe Biden has vowed to change that.
“The federal government must act swiftly and aggressively to help protect and support our families, small businesses, first responders, and caregivers essential to help us face this challenge, those who are most vulnerable to health and economic impacts, and our broader communities–not to blame others or bail out corporations,” says the introduction to Biden’s seven-point anti-coronavirus battle plan, at https://buildbackbetter.gov/priorities/covid-19.