By: Mellissa Chang
March 26, 2021--Although a year has passed since the pandemic began, it’s clear that continued and expanded oversight of COVID-19 relief programs is needed. Early indications suggest that the new administration is up to this task.
In a speech following the signing of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), President Joe Biden promised “fastidious oversight” of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief funds.
Fortunately, the ARP mandates substantial outlays for oversight activities, so the Biden Administration will have all the resources it needs to keep the president’s promises. The ARP allocates more than $200 million to direct oversight activities — five times more than the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 allocated in December — and almost $200 million for enforcing COVID-19-related worker protections.
The Government Accountability Office received the largest allocation for oversight activities at $77 million. The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), which was established last March by the CARES Act, will receive an additional $40 million, bringing its total funding to $120 million.
The ARP also contains roughly $86 million for Inspectors General to carry out oversight work. Specifically, $25 million has been allocated for the Small Business Administration, $12.5 million for the Department of Labor, $10 million for the Department of Veterans Affairs, $5.6 million for the Department of the Treasury, and $5 million each for the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. The Department of Commerce and the Department of Agriculture both received amounts under $5 million.
Detecting fraud and increasing equity in unemployment insurance (UI) programs are also top priorities in the American Rescue Plan, which set aside $2 billion for UI system enhancements through the Department of Labor. That money will support both federal and state efforts to streamline the UI process. The Department of Labor also received roughly $187 million to support enforcement of COVID-19-related worker protections.
In the two weeks following the ARP’s enactment, federal agencies have already expanded the scope and force of their oversight actions. The PRAC has already announced the creation of a Pandemic Analytics Center of Excellence that will leverage data and analysis tools to enhance oversight and monitoring; the Department of Labor has launched a website to educate victims of UI-related identity theft; and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has implemented a new program for expanded COVID-19 safety inspections.
Despite recent, positive developments, the cause endures. Oversight is not an abstract public relations battle – it can be a matter of life and death for those struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. For every dollar lost to fraud and every day that aid is delayed, more Americans inch closer to precarity. Efficient, effective, and equitable distribution of relief funds helps ensure that all families can continue to put food on the table. If the Biden administration intends to make “build back better” more than just a campaign slogan, its oversight activity must continue on its current, productive trajectory.