Nearly $100B stolen in US pandemic relief funds

US agency says it has returned more than $2.3 billion of fraudulently obtained funds by working with financial partners and states to reverse transactions.
US agency says it has returned more than $2.3 billion of fraudulently obtained funds by working with financial partners and states to reverse transactions. (Reuters)

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Nearly $100B stolen in US relief funds

Nearly $100 billion at minimum has been stolen from Covid-19 relief programmes set up to help businesses and people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, the US Secret Service has said.

The estimate is based on Secret Service cases and data from the Labor Department and the Small Business Administration, said Roy Dotson, the agency’s national pandemic fraud recovery coordinator, in an interview. 

The Secret Service didn’t include Covid-19 fraud cases prosecuted by the Justice Department.

While roughly 3 percent of the $3.4 trillion dispersed, the amount stolen from pandemic benefits programmes shows “the sheer size of the pot is enticing to the criminals,” Dotson said.

Most of that figure comes from unemployment fraud. 

The Labor Department reported about $87 billion in unemployment benefits could have been paid improperly, with a significant portion attributable to fraud.

Spain sets new daily record for Covid cases

Spain has shattered its previous record for daily coronavirus cases, with the Health Ministry reporting 49,823 new infections as omicron has quickly become the dominant strain.

In just one week, omicron has jumped from representing 3.4 percent of cases to 47.2 percent, according to the data.

Last Tuesday, Spain reported just over 26,000 infections.

US population growth dips due to Covid

US population growth dipped to its lowest rate since the nation’s founding during the first year of the pandemic as the coronavirus curtailed immigration, delayed pregnancies, and killed hundreds of thousands of US residents, according to government data.

The United States grew by only 0.1percent, with an additional 392,665 added to the US population from July 2020 to July 2021, bringing the nation’s count to 331.8 million people, according to population estimates released by the US Census Bureau.

The US has been experiencing slow population growth for years but the pandemic exacerbated that trend. 

Israelis over 60, medics to get 4th Covid jab to curb Omicron

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said Israelis over the age of 60 and medical teams will be eligible for a fourth Covid vaccination, following the recommendation of an expert panel.

The decision came as the state was struggling to contain the spread of the Omicron variant, imposing travel and other restrictions while avoiding a domestic lockdown.

“I gave an order to prepare immediately for a fourth vaccination,” Bennett said on Twitter, with a spokesperson saying Israel would be the world’s first country to administer the fourth shot.

“The world will follow in our footsteps.”

Australia’s national Cabinet to meet early amid Omicron surge

Australia’s national Cabinet is set to hold an unscheduled meeting as states press the federal government to further shorten the wait time for booster vaccines amid a record surge in cases fuelled by the Omicron variant.

Australia is grappling with the more transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus as restrictions ease after higher vaccination levels but authorities are urging people to focus on the hospitalisation numbers, which remains far lower than during the Delta wave.

State leaders have been pushing Prime Minister Scott Morrison to lower the wait time for booster shots to around four months from five to contain the spread of Omicron.

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