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House Committee Chair Calls For Probe Into ‘$60 Billion’ In Fake COVID-19 Unemployment Claims

House Committee Chair Calls For Probe Into ‘$60 Billion’ In Fake COVID-19 Unemployment Claims

Authored by Katabella Roberts via The Epoch…



House Committee Chair Calls For Probe Into '$60 Billion' In Fake COVID-19 Unemployment Claims

Authored by Katabella Roberts via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-Mo.) is calling for an investigation into the “historic theft of taxpayer dollars from COVID-era unemployment programs” after a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that as much as $60 billion may have been spent on fraudulent claims for unemployment insurance during the pandemic.

People line up outside Kentucky Career Center prior to its opening to find assistance with their unemployment claims in Frankfort, Kentucky, on June 18, 2020. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

The report, released on Jan. 23, said that the Department of Labor (DOL) stated that about $878 billion in total unemployment benefits were paid from April 2020 through September 2022.

GAO said that at least $4.3 billion in unemployment insurance (UI) fraud has been formally confirmed by state workforce agencies, while at least $45 billion in payments have been flagged for potential fraud by the DOL’s Office of Inspector General.

The federal government started an unemployment aid program in March 2020. GAO added that it’s difficult to know for sure the extent of fraud in unemployment insurance programs across the system during the pandemic.

For example, it noted that the Labor Department, based on states’ reviews of samples of claims, estimates that as much as $8.5 billion was spent on fraudulent UI claims in 2021.

According to GAO, if that level were to be extrapolated to total spending across all UI programs during the wider pandemic period, it would suggest more than $60 billion in fraudulent payments were made.

People who lost their jobs wait in line to file for unemployment at an Arkansas Workforce Center in Fayetteville, Ark., on April 6, 2020. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

‘Hard-Earned Tax Dollars Lost to Criminal Activity, Fraud’

The report notes, however, that the figure is an estimate, subject to limitations regarding its validity and accuracy, and should be “interpreted with caution” while the actual amount is unclear.

In a statement on Monday, Smith said that the GAO report “only scratches the surface of what is publicly known about the unprecedented scope, size, and severity of the fraud.”

This report proves what Republicans have already been saying. American families, whose wages have eroded under President [Joe] Biden’s inflation crisis, have watched as hundreds of billions of their hard-earned tax dollars were lost to criminal activity and fraud because Democrats refused to acknowledge the problem and repeatedly rejected Republican efforts to put basic safeguards in place to protect against this activity,” Smith said.

“Congressional Democrats walked away from their oversight responsibilities of getting to the bottom of how this happened, what they could do to prevent it, and even how much has fully been lost, leaving criminals to profit off the backs of taxpayers. Republicans are committed to investigating fraud and conducting rigorous oversight on behalf of working families,” he added.

The Missouri lawmaker also pointed to testimony (pdf) by DOL Inspector General Larry D. Turner in March last year stating that at least $163 billion in pandemic UI benefits could have been “paid improperly, with a significant portion attributable to fraud.”

According to The Washington Post, the government has so far recovered just over $4 billion of that, which amounts to just 2.4 percent of the wrongful payments.

In this photo illustration, a person files an application for unemployment benefits in Arlington, Va., on April 16, 2020. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Actual Unemployment Fraud Figure Could Be Much Higher

Smith also pointed to estimates by experts including Blake Hall, CEO of, who told Axios in 2021 that as much as $400 billion went on fraudulent unemployment claims. Half of all unemployment spending may have been stolen, Hall told the publication.

A statement issued in September 2022 by the DOL inspector general said that more than 190,000 investigations relating to UI fraud have been opened since the start of the pandemic, but so far just over 1,000 individuals have been charged.

While GAO noted in its report that the DOL has taken steps to address fraudulent jobless benefits, such as issuing guidance, providing funding to states, and deploying teams to recommend improvements to state unemployment insurance programs, the watchdog noted that as of December 2022, the department has “not yet developed an antifraud strategy based on leading practices in GAO’s Fraud Risk Framework.”

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Tyler Durden Wed, 01/25/2023 - 17:40

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Apartment permits are back to recession lows. Will mortgage rates follow?

If housing leads us into a recession in the near future, that means mortgage rates have stayed too high for too long.



In Tuesday’s report, the 5-unit housing permits data hit the same levels we saw in the COVID-19 recession. Once the backlog of apartments is finished, those jobs will be at risk, which traditionally means mortgage rates would fall soon after, as they have in previous economic cycles.

However, this is happening while single-family permits are still rising as the rate of builder buy-downs and the backlog of single-family homes push single-family permits and starts higher. It is a tale of two markets — something I brought up on CNBC earlier this year to explain why this trend matters with housing starts data because the two marketplaces are heading in opposite directions.

The question is: Will the uptick in single-family permits keep mortgage rates higher than usual? As long as jobless claims stay low, the falling 5-unit apartment permit data might not lead to lower mortgage rates as it has in previous cycles.

From Census: Building Permits: Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,518,000. This is 1.9 percent above the revised January rate of 1,489,000 and 2.4 percent above the February 2023 rate of 1,482,000.

When people say housing leads us in and out of a recession, it is a valid premise and that is why people carefully track housing permits. However, this housing cycle has been unique. Unfortunately, many people who have tracked this housing cycle are still stuck on 2008, believing that what happened during COVID-19 was rampant demand speculation that would lead to a massive supply of homes once home sales crashed. This would mean the builders couldn’t sell more new homes or have housing permits rise.

Housing permits, starts and new home sales were falling for a while, and in 2022, the data looked recessionary. However, new home sales were never near the 2005 peak, and the builders found a workable bottom in sales by paying down mortgage rates to boost demand. The first level of job loss recessionary data has been averted for now. Below is the chart of the building permits.

On the other hand, the apartment boom and bust has already happened. Permits are already back to the levels of the COVID-19 recession and have legs to move lower. Traditionally, when this data line gets this negative, a recession isn’t far off. But, as you can see in the chart below, there’s a big gap between the housing permit data for single-family and five units. Looking at this chart, the recession would only happen after single-family and 5-unit permits fall together, not when we have a gap like we see today.

From Census: Housing completions: Privately‐owned housing completions in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,729,000.

As we can see in the chart below, we had a solid month of housing completions. This was driven by 5-unit completions, which have been in the works for a while now. Also, this month’s report show a weather impact as progress in building was held up due to bad weather. However, the good news is that more supply of rental units will mean the fight against rent inflation will be positive as more supply is the best way to deal with inflation. In time, that is also good news for mortgage rates.

Housing Starts: Privately‐owned housing starts in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,521,000. This is 10.7 percent (±14.2 percent)* above the revised January estimate of 1,374,000 and is 5.9 percent (±10.0 percent)* above the February 2023 rate of 1,436,000.

Housing starts data beat to the upside, but the real story is that the marketplace has diverged into two different directions. The apartment boom is over and permits are heading below the COVID-19 recession, but as long as the builders can keep rates low enough to sell more new homes, single-family permits and starts can slowly move forward.

If we lose the single-family marketplace, expect the chart below to look like it always does before a recession — meaning residential construction workers lose their jobs. For now, the apartment construction workers are at the most risk once they finish the backlog of apartments under construction.

Overall, the housing starts beat to the upside. Still, the report’s internals show a marketplace with early recessionary data lines, which traditionally mean mortgage rates should go lower soon. If housing leads us into a recession in the near future, that means mortgage rates have stayed too high for too long and restrictive policy by the Fed created a recession as we have seen in previous economic cycles.

The builders have been paying down rates to keep construction workers employed, but if rates go higher, it will get more and more challenging to do this because not all builders have the capacity to buy down rates. Last year, we saw what 8% mortgage rates did to new home sales; they dropped before rates fell. So, this is something to keep track of, especially with a critical Federal Reserve meeting this week.

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One more airline cracks down on lounge crowding in a way you won’t like

Qantas Airways is increasing the price of accessing its network of lounges by as much as 17%.



Over the last two years, multiple airlines have dealt with crowding in their lounges. While they are designed as a luxury experience for a small subset of travelers, high numbers of people taking a trip post-pandemic as well as the different ways they are able to gain access through status or certain credit cards made it difficult for some airlines to keep up with keeping foods stocked, common areas clean and having enough staff to serve bar drinks at the rate that customers expect them.

In the fall of 2023, Delta Air Lines  (DAL)  caught serious traveler outcry after announcing that it was cracking down on crowding by raising how much one needs to spend for lounge access and limiting the number of times one can enter those lounges.

Related: Competitors pushed Delta to backtrack on its lounge and loyalty program changes

Some airlines saw the outcry with Delta as their chance to reassure customers that they would not raise their fees while others waited for the storm to pass to quietly implement their own increases.

A photograph captures a Qantas Airways lounge in Sydney, Australia.


This is how much more you'll have to pay for Qantas lounge access

Australia's flagship carrier Qantas Airways  (QUBSF)  is the latest airline to announce that it would raise the cost accessing the 24 lounges across the country as well as the 600 international lounges available at airports across the world through partner airlines.

More Travel:

Unlike other airlines which grant access primarily after reaching frequent flyer status, Qantas also sells it through a membership — starting from April 18, 2024, prices will rise from $600 Australian dollars ($392 USD)  to $699 AUD ($456 USD) for one year, $1,100 ($718 USD) to $1,299 ($848 USD) for two years and $2,000 AUD ($1,304) to lock in the rate for four years.

Those signing up for lounge access for the first time also currently pay a joining fee of $99 AUD ($65 USD) that will rise to $129 AUD ($85 USD).

The airline also allows customers to purchase their membership with Qantas Points they collect through frequent travel; the membership fees are also being raised by the equivalent amount in points in what adds up to as much as 17% — from 308,000 to 399,900 to lock in access for four years.

Airline says hikes will 'cover cost increases passed on from suppliers'

"This is the first time the Qantas Club membership fees have increased in seven years and will help cover cost increases passed on from a range of suppliers over that time," a Qantas spokesperson confirmed to Simple Flying. "This follows a reduction in the membership fees for several years during the pandemic."

The spokesperson said the gains from the increases will go both towards making up for inflation-related costs and keeping existing lounges looking modern by updating features like furniture and décor.

While the price increases also do not apply for those who earned lounge access through frequent flyer status or change what it takes to earn that status, Qantas is also introducing even steeper increases for those renewing a membership or adding additional features such as spouse and partner memberships.

In some cases, the cost of these features will nearly double from what members are paying now.

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Star Wars icon gives his support to Disney, Bob Iger

Disney shareholders have a huge decision to make on April 3.



Disney's  (DIS)  been facing some headwinds up top, but its leadership just got backing from one of the company's more prominent investors.

Star Wars creator George Lucas put out of statement in support of the company's current leadership team, led by CEO Bob Iger, ahead of the April 3 shareholders meeting which will see investors vote on the company's 12-member board.

"Creating magic is not for amateurs," Lucas said in a statement. "When I sold Lucasfilm just over a decade ago, I was delighted to become a Disney shareholder because of my long-time admiration for its iconic brand and Bob Iger’s leadership. When Bob recently returned to the company during a difficult time, I was relieved. No one knows Disney better. I remain a significant shareholder because I have full faith and confidence in the power of Disney and Bob’s track record of driving long-term value. I have voted all of my shares for Disney’s 12 directors and urge other shareholders to do the same."

Related: Disney stands against Nelson Peltz as leadership succession plan heats up

Lucasfilm was acquired by Disney for $4 billion in 2012 — notably under the first term of Iger. He received over 37 million in shares of Disney during the acquisition.

Lucas' statement seems to be an attempt to push investors away from the criticism coming from The Trian Partners investment group, led by Nelson Peltz. The group, owns about $3 million in shares of the media giant, is pushing two candidates for positions on the board, which are Peltz and former Disney CFO Jay Rasulo.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 14: George Lucas attends the Los Angeles Premiere of LucasFilms' "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" at Dolby Theatre on June 14, 2023 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

Peltz and Co. have called out a pair of Disney directors — Michael Froman and Maria Elena Lagomasino — for their lack of experience in the media space.

Related: Women's basketball is gaining ground, but is March Madness ready to rival the men's game?

Blackwells Capital is also pushing three of its candidates to take seats during the early April shareholder meeting, though Reuters has reported that the firm has been supportive of the company's current direction.

Disney has struggled in recent years amid the changes in media and the effects of the pandemic — which triggered the return of Iger at the helm in late 2022. After going through mass layoffs in the spring of 2023 and focusing on key growth brands, the company has seen a steady recovery with its stock up over 25% year-to-date and around 40% for the last six months.

Related: Veteran fund manager picks favorite stocks for 2024

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