Blame Congress for Pandemic Fraud

“The inconvenient truth behind all this fraud and waste is that these government programs never should have been designed as they were. For example, while the federal government justifiably boosted state unemployment benefits at the beginning of the pandemic, it was irresponsible to enhance the benefits by $600 a week. As a result, 76 percent of the individuals who received such benefits were making more by not working than by working. It was also irresponsible to extend the program long after the economy reopened and resumed growing.

The same is true of the overly generous three rounds of $1,200, $600, and $1,400 individual payments paid to people who either already received the enhanced unemployment benefits or who never lost their jobs. Most recipients of these funds didn’t need them. In fact, only 15 percent of people who received the first round of checks said they had spent it or planned to spend it. And there were other benefits on top of these checks.”

“This non-fraudulent spending is now helping to fuel inflation.

Then, you have the money dispensed to corporations. In one way or another, that spending made up a huge share of the COVID-19 relief. Indeed, whether through the airline bailouts or the Payroll Protection Program, shareholders collected trillions of dollars in government handouts they didn’t need. Most of the PPP funding, for example, went to companies whose workers were never at risk of losing their jobs since they were well-suited to work from home.”

“billions of dollars went to state and local governments, including for schools that stayed closed, even though many of these governments’ revenue growth equaled or exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

Of course there was some fraud, but the malfeasance happened only because the programs were created in the first place and designed to go to everyone regardless of need. This reckless “design” is the true scandal.”

Greg Abbott Spent $1,400 a Head To Bus Migrants to D.C. for a Political Stunt

“In early April, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled a controversial plan to send buses full of undocumented immigrants to Washington, D.C. The policy, Abbott said, would “help local officials whose communities are being overwhelmed by hordes of illegal immigrants.”

But it turns out those communities might be stuck footing the hefty bill for Abbott’s busing scheme. According to state records obtained by Dallas–Fort Worth’s NBC 5, bussing costs came out to over $1.6 million in April and May. With 1,154 migrants transported during that period, the per-rider cost was roughly $1,400.

That’s far more expensive than a commercial bus or train ticket would’ve cost—a one-way journey from El Paso, Texas, to Washington, D.C., runs somewhere between $200 and $300 as of this article’s writing. It’s also more expensive than a first-class plane ticket from a border town to Washington, which NBC 5 reported ranged between $800 and $900. And it’s more than the public spends on average to transport a student to school for an entire school year.

NBC 5 notes that costs are so high in part because the state has hired security guards to staff each bus.”

“Costs are further inflated by the fact that buses drive back to Texas from Washington empty, having dropped off their passengers. Texas, however, gets billed for all total mileage.”

“Abbott’s busing plan is by no mean his only expensive anti-immigrant endeavor. He vowed last year to build a wall along his state’s border with Mexico, initially transferring $250 million in state revenues to the project as a “down payment.” A donation page for the wall has collected $55,322,273 as of May 27—unlikely to make a significant dent, given that a section of former President Donald Trump’s border wall in Texas came out to $27 million a mile. Abbott’s border-securing mission, Operation Lone Star, costs taxpayers over $2.5 million per week. That effort also left hundreds of migrants in pretrial detention for weeks or months over misdemeanor trespassing charges”

Watchdog Report: At Least 20 Percent of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Dollars Wasted

“The federal government sent billions in unemployment aid to ineligible beneficiaries and outright fraudsters during the pandemic, according to a new watchdog report. At least $78 billion in jobless benefits, and potentially much more, were misspent during fiscal year 2021, according to a Tuesday report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
“Not only is the system falling short in meeting the needs of workers and the broader economy, but the potential for huge financial losses could undermine public confidence in the stewardship of government funds,” said GAO head Gene Dorado in a press release yesterday, who called the report’s findings “extremely troubling.”

The Congressional watchdog agency has rated the unemployment insurance system as “high risk” for waste, fraud, and abuse and called on lawmakers and the administration to undertake immediate reforms.

The federal government’s unemployment insurance system—jointly administered by the Department of Labor and a patchwork of state agencies—has long struggled with making improper payments. This problem only got worse during the pandemic, when Congress dumped billions more into an expanded number of unemployment assistance programs.

The GAO found that the improper payment rate jumped from 9 percent in the pre-pandemic fiscal year 2020 to 18.9 percent the next year. That means nearly one in five unemployment insurance dollars went to an ineligible or overpaid beneficiary.

There are multiple reasons for this sharp rise in improper payments.

The GAO reports that some states’ legacy 40- and 50-year-old information technology systems used to administer benefits weren’t up to the task of identifying potential fraud or overpayments. These same systems also struggled to handle totally new benefit programs covering self-employed workers like rideshare drivers, who typically aren’t covered by unemployment insurance.

Federal rules on who was eligible to receive benefits were also “untimely and unclear,” according to the GAO report. Some state officials told the agency they’d already set up programs and started sending money out the door by the time Labor Department guidance came down.

The massive increase in available unemployment funds also increased the rate of improper payments. Federal funding for unemployment benefits jumped from $86.9 billion in fiscal year 2020 to $410 billion in fiscal year 2021.

States often struggled to hire enough people to administer these new benefits. The staff they did hire were often undertrained.

The huge increase in unemployment benefits also became a target for fraudsters. The GAO reports that 146 people have pleaded guilty to federal charges of defrauding unemployment systems. In California, for instance, the state paid an estimated $400 million on fraudulent claims made in the name of state prison inmates.”

The American Rescue Plan Bailed Out Unprofitable Government-Owned Golf Courses

“An unnecessary federal bailout of state and local governments has given an undeserved mulligan to some money-losing government-owned golf courses.

That’s despite the fact that some of those same courses reported an increase in customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to reports submitted to the Treasury Department and reviewed by Reason, Union County, New Jersey, has committed $929,000 of its federal COVID funds to a pair of county-owned golf courses: Galloping Hill and Ash Brook. That spending will help the courses cover “costs associated with increased use” as a result of “an increase in play at county golf courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

That’s the sort of problem that many private businesses would probably love to have. Either as the result of government-imposed lockdowns or changes in consumer behavior during the pandemic, recreational spending on restaurants, bars, concert venues, and theaters plummeted. If that made golfing—an outdoor, socially distanced activity—more popular, why should taxpayers now have to bail out a business that got more successful?”

“In a report published earlier this year, the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website) found that 155 local governments lost a combined $61 million by running golf courses during their 2020 fiscal years. One of the biggest losers was Thousand Oaks, California, which lost a staggering $800,023 on a single city-owned golf course in 2020.

Naturally, that course got a piece of the federal bailout too. The Treasury Department’s tracker of American Rescue Plan spending shows that Thousand Oaks plans to spend more than $14 million on “revenue replacement” on a variety of items, including “city-owned theatres and golf course.” It’s not clear from the data provided to the Treasury Department how much of that money will be spent on the golf course (nor is it clear why the city owns multiple theaters, but that’s for another day).”

“”Congress really put taxpayers in the rough,” says Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a fiscally conservative nonprofit. He says Congress should have placed stricter limits on how the $350 billion state and local government bailout could be used.

Those funds were included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress in March 2021, and were ostensibly meant to cover pandemic-related public health costs or to offset lost tax revenue due to the economic consequences of COVID-19. Even before the law was passed, there were questions about whether such a large bailout of state and local tax coffers was necessary or prudent.

It seems to have been neither, as most governments did not experience a significant revenue shortfall due to the pandemic. Now flush with extra cash from Washington and few restrictions on how to use it, some state and local governments are blowing the money on pet projects like government-owned golf courses and bonuses for government workers”

“Other obviously vital public health costs being covered by the American Rescue Plan’s local government bailout fund include the planting of new trees “including ash, spruce, maple, pine, [and] cherry” and the installation of a new irrigation system at a government-owned golf course in Elmira, New York, according to Treasury Department data. That’ll burn through $1.2 million of federal funds.

In Lexington, Kentucky, a government-owned course that brags about containing “the longest par-5” hole in the state, will be getting a new irrigation system with the help of more than $1.3 million from the federal bailout. The course is already “a local favorite and an attraction to visitors,” the county wrote in its project summary submitted to the Treasury Department, but the desired upgrades haven’t been made due to a lack of funding from the local government.”

Why Can’t We Build Anything?

“it’s not true that Washington is actually “sending the money.” Because of Congress’ longstanding inability to perform one of its most basic functions—pass a budget—significant swathes of transportation spending are stalled at 2020 levels. In November, the infrastructure bill did indeed authorize over a trillion in spending. But before all of that money can actually head out the door, there needs to be an appropriations bill in place”

“The U.S. is the sixth-most expensive country in the world to build rapid-rail transit infrastructure like the New York City subway or the Washington, D.C., metro system.
Part of the reason is just plain waste and corruption. The federal infrastructure bill has created massive incentives for rent-seeking while ballooning the municipal lobbying sector. Like contestants on a game show, states and localities are scrambling for dollars, correctly understanding that this might be the only major windfall in this area for a decade or more—again, largely due to Congress’ inability to do its job in a predictable way in concert with a chief executive who can set clear achievable policy priorities.

More than 1,000 municipal entities spent just shy of $50 million on federal lobbyists in the second half of 2021 as the infrastructure bill was finalized and passed, according to data tracked by OpenSecrets. That’s about 7 percent higher than the $46.7 million that municipal entities spent in the same period of 2020, which was hardly a dry spell given the federal pandemic spending that was already underway. That number likely underestimates the real demand, since it doesn’t capture contracts signed right at the end of the year.

In theory, no lobbyist is needed to tap into the new infrastructure money. At the end of January, Mitch Landrieu, a former mayor of New Orleans who is overseeing infrastructure spending for the Biden administration, proudly announced the existence of a 465-page guidebook that explains the different pots of money available to communities, along with a data file that is—get this—searchable!

Despite all this, there’s no reason to think the U.S. is notably worse on these measures than other developed nations. Likewise, while some of the cost is inputs, such as material and labor, they don’t explain the disparity fully. A recent study of the interstate highway system from George Washington University professor Leah Brooks and Yale University professor Zachary Liscow suggests that the X-factor is “citizen voice,” which can take the form of legitimate opposition to eminent domain, or which might be less charitably described as “not in my backyard” obstructionism and environmental regulatory foot dragging.”

Billions of animals are slaughtered every year — just to be wasted

“Around one-third of food produced in the US is never consumed, ending up in landfills as waste.”

“According to USDA data from 2010, Americans throw out 26 percent of meat, poultry, and fish at the retail and consumer level. Harish Sethu, a data scientist and author of the blog Counting Animals, says America’s meat waste problem means we’re raising about a billion chickens, more than 100 million other land animals (mostly turkeys, pigs, and cows), as well as capturing around 25 billion fish and 15 billion shellfish (mostly shrimp), only to have them wind up in a landfill.
While the data is over a decade old, the situation is likely worse now, as US meat production rose 10.3 percent from 2011 to 2018 while food waste only decreased by 1 percent.”

““A lot of people think their food is bad when it’s actually still perfectly good to eat,” Dana Gunders, executive director of food waste nonprofit ReFED, told me. “The dates on food are really an indicator of when something is of top quality or it’s freshest, but they’re not telling you the food is bad or that you can’t eat it.”

Her general rule of thumb? “If it looks fine, smells fine, and tastes fine, it’s okay to eat.” She encourages readers to visit SaveTheFood.com, a consumer guide from environmental nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, for more information.”

“Can’t eat it soon? Put it in the freezer. “Freezers are a magic pause button,” Gunders said.”

““A lot of people are in the habit of freezing meat but you can freeze milk if you’re going away on vacation — it may separate a little but it’ll be okay. Eggs you can freeze if you crack them out of their shell and scramble them but don’t cook them.” When it comes to cheese, it’s best to shred it before freezing and then use it in cooking after thawing.

Lastly, plan ahead. “If you can, sketch out an accurate plan of your week and when you’ll eat at home, and have that in mind when you’re shopping,” Gunders said. “That’s really critical because shopping is where you commit to the food regardless of whether you eat it or not.””

“Reducing waste at the farm level is vital because if meat companies can reduce their mortality rates — the percent of farm animals that die before they can be slaughtered — then they can conceivably reduce the number of animals they need to breed in the first place.

The biggest impact can be made in the chicken industry, simply because of its scale.”

“Grocery stores, restaurants, and food manufacturers can also do a lot to reduce food waste.”