Jason Chaffetz: COVID funeral payments – Biden program an invitation to commit fraud. Here's how

Biden faces growing pressure to uncover COVID origins

Fox News congressional correspondent Jacqui Heinrich has the latest developments on steps toward transparency

Unbeknownst to most American taxpayers, they’re on the hook to cover the funeral costs of many COVID-19 victims. Thanks to a Biden administration program that reimburses up to $35,500 to applicants who buried a loved one, funerals are the newest entitlement program.  

It doesn’t matter if they’re rich or poor so long as they have a death certificate listing COVID-19 as the cause of death. Oh, and if they don’t have that, the FEMA website provides a handy FAQ section providing guidance on how to amend a death certificate to attribute the death to COVID-19.

Given the much higher reimbursement rates hospitals received for treating COVID-19 patients, it’s hard to imagine there are a lot of deaths that were improperly attributed to other causes. It’s much more plausible to imagine deaths resulting from other causes being attributed to COVID-19. 

Given an incentive worth tens of thousands of dollars, how easy would it be to reclassify a death based on an earlier exposure or positive test, even if unrelated to the actual cause of death?  

This is a program ripe for abuse. Earlier this month Sens. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, raised questions about the program in a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who chairs the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC). 

“We are concerned that the lack of congressional direction under this program, the high payment amounts of up to $35,500 per applicant, and the resulting guidance issued by FEMA will result in the program being one rampant with fraud,” they wrote.

After reading the fine print, the senators discovered an even bigger incentive for fraud. The Biden administration’s eligibility criteria for the program does not require applicants to be U.S. citizens. 

What could possibly go wrong?

Not surprisingly, on the first day the benefit was available, FEMA’s call center received more than one million inquiries. That’s the equivalent of almost two calls for every recorded COVID death in this country – just on the first day.  

Americans will disagree on whether providing such a benefit is the proper role of the federal government. I happen to think it’s not. We don’t provide such rich benefits to our veterans – who sacrificed to serve our country and many of whom suffer lifelong consequences of that service. But the “coyote” illegally trafficking kids and drugs across our borders can potentially qualify.

Even for those who think such an entitlement is valid, the potential for fraud and abuse of this program should set off alarm bells. Just look at what happened to the enhanced unemployment benefits doled out by states during the pandemic. 

Sens. Braun and Grassley are right to demand better oversight from the Biden administration.

States lost billions of dollars to fraudulent claims. California has lost at least $11 billion, with an additional $20 billion still being investigated. The state blocked 214,000 claims originating from overseas computers.

This funeral reimbursement program should be raising a lot more questions. Braun and Grassley are right to demand better oversight from the Biden administration. In their letter, which received almost no coverage from a disinterested press, they raised valid questions about FEMA’s ability to detect fraudulent claims.  

Citing the FEMA guidance on how applicants can amend a death certificate for someone who died of another cause, the senators explain: “It is unclear what checks FEMA has in place to ensure that death certificates submitted under the program are authentic, and have not been amended to report, falsely, a death which ‘may have been caused by’ COVID-19.”

As has been the case with most legislation originating in the Democrat-controlled House, this bill passed along party lines with little to no scrutiny of its fine print. In my experience, these are the kinds of provisions that get slipped in when you expedite complex legislation without committee hearings, markups or participation from the opposing party.  But since Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., took the speaker’s gavel, this has been standard procedure in the House.

The American people deserve better.  After a trying year that will leave the next generation with a lifetime of new debt, we owe them answers to basic questions. 

The wave of borrowed dollars swamping the nation will eventually have to be repaid. The least we can do is provide rigorous oversight and transparent accountability. 


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