By Jason Edmonds
After Congress began passing relief bills to give out trillions of dollars in response to the pandemic, economists were quick to say the amount was too much and would lead to inflation. In fact, a December 2021 article explained that 80 percent of all dollars in circulation were printed in the prior 22 months. As we have all witnessed and felt in our wallets, dumping trillions of dollars in excessive relief programs has led to inflation rates not seen in over four decades. Another unexpected result of these government programs is rampant misuse of funds.
Across the country, we are witnessing hundreds of billions of dollars that the federal government gave out with few strings attached, leading to immense fraud and wasted tax dollars. While the federal government does not know exactly how much relief funding has been misappropriated, an NBC article from 2021 stated “credible estimates range from $87 billion to $400 billion — at least half of which went to foreign criminals.” And that is just for unemployment benefits. These billions of stolen tax dollars do not include amounts from other federal relief programs, like the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) and the Payroll Protection Program (PPP). We may never know exactly how many billions or trillions of taxpayer dollars were wasted.
The president’s chief coordinator for stimulus spending is quoted as saying, “There is no question that the immense fraud that took place”, which shows that even the government knows fraud is happening. We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg of how much fraud and misuse of funds has taken place. For example, the Department of Justice recently found $149 million from false medical billing was taken from relief programs, a Georgia man received federal relief funds meant for keeping his employees but instead spent nearly $58,000 on a Pokemon card, here in Tennessee, a county executive in Rhea County used $650,000 in PPP funds to invest in cryptocurrency, and questions still remain about what taxpayers received in a Metro Nashville Public Schools $14 million dollar contract they signed and paid for with ESSER funds.
Being hit with rampant inflation while also witnessing how these billions, possibly trillions, of dollars are being wasted and misused is a slap in the face to every hard-working American looking to make ends meet. Every lawmaker at federal, state, and local offices should demand accountability for these dollars and make sure every cent that is not yet spent makes its way to its intended destination or returned to the Treasury, not lining the pockets of criminals or bureaucrats. Let’s hope Tennessee can top another list through accountability and transparency with these relief dollars.
Jason Edmonds serves as the Research Associate at the Beacon Center of TN. In his role, Jason supports Beacon’s legislative agenda through researching economic development, education issues, and local governments. Before joining Beacon, he spent time on numerous political campaigns around the country for all levels of public office, including work on the advance team for a 2016 presidential candidate.
Jason received his Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration & Management and Master’s of Organizational Leadership from Williamson College. In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, traveling, and woodworking.