clearn.png
Monday October 3rd, 2022 5:02AM

Once dead, twice billed: GAO questions COVID funeral awards

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

The Federal Emergency Management Agency may have been double-billed for the funerals of hundreds of people who died of COVID-19, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report Wednesday.

The GAO identified 374 people who died and were listed on more than one application that received an award from the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance fund. That amounts to about $4.8 million in assistance that could have been improper or potentially fraudulent payments, the report said.

FEMA spokesperson Jaclyn Rothenberg said Wednesday that this was not an example of large-scale fraud and the amount of funeral assistance identified as at-risk was relatively small, with FEMA's "multi-layered internal quality controls and fraud controls" resulting in improper payments of less than 1%.

“Unfortunately, fraud, particularly identity theft, is common. FEMA has controls in place to detect instances and can and will prosecute anyone who would apply for assistance fraudulently,” Rothenberg said in a statement.

FEMA told the GAO that some duplicative applications were incorrectly awarded funeral assistance due to processing errors, not fraud, and benefits were not actually paid twice in some of the cases, the report said.

The cases have been sent to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General to consider whether to launch any fraud investigations, said Chris Currie, who leads GAO’s work on emergency management and disaster response and recovery, and Rebecca Shea, who oversees GAO audits to identify fraud, waste and abuse.

Shea said they could not confirm whether FEMA did or did not pay twice in all of the cases. She said she thinks fraudsters likely targeted the fund and some of it is data entry mistakes.

“Given everything we’ve seen in the pandemic programs over the past two years, if fraudsters did not try to gain from this system, that would be surprising to me,” she said Wednesday.

As of late last year, FEMA had awarded about $1.5 billion in assistance in response to about 235,000 applications for nearly 237,000 people who died due to COVID-19, the report said. While the duplicates are less than .2% of those applications, the GAO said the findings are significant due to the possibility of improper payments and potential fraud in this disaster and future disasters.

There were only about 6,000 applications for funeral assistance after other disasters in the decade before the pandemic. Use of the program “exploded” since Congress expanded it for COVID-19 by making the $50 billion in the Disaster Relief Fund available for such assistance, prompting GAO to do a forensic audit, Currie said.

FEMA said Wednesday that it has now awarded more than $2.1 billion to more than 355,000 recipients.

Most of the 374 deceased individuals identified on more than one application were listed by different applicants, the GAO said. The GAO provided three examples to FEMA. FEMA said there were processing errors and started trying to recoup the money in two of the cases in January, the report said.

About 50 deceased individuals were listed on multiple applications from the same applicant, the report said. FEMA initially said there were duplicates in the system due to a change in geographic coding and only one of the applications was paid in each case, but when the GAO provided examples, FEMA confirmed the duplicative applications were paid, the report said.

In addition, the GAO said it identified another 400 applications that received more than the maximum benefit of $9,000 for each person who died — some up to nearly $20,000 — for another roughly $4.7 million in assistance that could've been improper or potentially fraudulent payments.

There were thousands of awards given in instances where there was a missing or invalid death date according to the data that FEMA provided, the GAO said. Sometimes a deceased person was listed as the applicant or the date listed for the decedent was before the pandemic started, raising questions about how FEMA determined eligibility in those cases, Shea said.

“That shouldn't be happening,” she said. “You know, dead can't apply for benefits.”

The GAO is recommending FEMA put additional controls in place to prevent and detect improper payments and potential fraud, and address deficiencies in the data by updating records as data is verified and adding data fields where necessary.

Rothenberg said FEMA established additional controls prior to implementing COVID-19 Funeral Assistance to mitigate the risk of fraud and identity theft. She said FEMA requires verifiable documentation for funeral expenses, including funeral home contracts and receipts, and conducts multiple verification checks.

___

McDermott reported from Providence, R.I.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Business, AP Business - Personal Finance, AP Business - Financial Planning
© Copyright 2022 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Facebook parent Meta stock soars despite growth slowdown
Facebook parent Meta’s first quarter profit jumped past Wall Street’s expectations despite slower revenue growth, sending shares up sharply in after-hours trading
4:22PM ( 3 minutes ago )
Oregon governor's clemency of murderer unleashes criticism
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is defending granting clemency to dozens of people, including for a man convicted of murdering a teenager and whose release from prison is coming under fire from prosecutors and sheriffs
4:11PM ( 14 minutes ago )
Stocks end mixed after another wobbly day on Wall Street
Stocks ended with meager gains on Wall Street Wednesday, stabilizing after a sell-off in tech stocks a day earlier
4:10PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Post-Floyd probe finds discrimination by Minneapolis police
A state investigation launched after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer has determined that the department has engaged in a pattern of race discrimination
3:43PM ( 43 minutes ago )
EXPLAINER: Will a Russian prisoner exchange impact Griner?
Brittney Griner remains detained in Russia and it’s unclear how an unexpected prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia that freed marine veteran Trevor Reed will affect the status of WNBA star
3:41PM ( 44 minutes ago )
Microsoft: Russian hacks often accompany Ukraine attacks
Microsoft says cyberattacks by state-backed Russian hackers have destroyed data across dozens of organizations in Ukraine and produced a “chaotic information environment.”
3:37PM ( 48 minutes ago )
AP Business
Bitcoin in 401(k) becomes reality for more, despite warnings
Retirement giant Fidelity said Tuesday that it’s launched a way for workers to put some of their 401(k) savings and contributions directly in bitcoin
11:07AM ( 1 day ago )
Female artists dominate the Venice Biennale for 1st time
For the first time in the 127-year history of the Venice Biennale, the world’s oldest and most important contemporary art fair features a majority of female and gender non-conforming artists, under the curatorial direction of Cecilia Alemani
7:46AM ( 4 days ago )
Average long-term US mortgage rates highest in 12 years
Long-term U.S. mortgage rates rose for the seventh straight week, climbing to their highest level in more than a decade
10:20AM ( 6 days ago )
AP Business - Personal Finance
France's Macron faces angry voters as he fights for 2nd term
French President Emmanuel Macron is facing a tougher-than expected fight for reelection
4:36PM ( 2 weeks ago )
America's homeless ranks graying as more retire on streets
America's homeless population is graying
11:22AM ( 2 weeks ago )
France's top presidential contenders: Who's proposing what
The 12 candidates in France’s presidential race are proposing drastically different ideas
3:49AM ( 2 weeks ago )
AP Business - Financial Planning
Oregon governor's clemency of murderer unleashes criticism
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is defending granting clemency to dozens of people, including for a man convicted of murdering a teenager and whose release from prison is coming under fire from prosecutors and sheriffs
4:11PM ( 14 minutes ago )
Supreme Court seems divided in Oklahoma Indian Country case
A seemingly divided Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over Oklahoma’s authority to prosecute some crimes on Native American lands, following a 2020 high court decision
4:08PM ( 17 minutes ago )
Madeleine Albright honored by Biden, other world leaders
World leaders and the U.S. political and foreign policy elite joyously remembered America's first female secretary of state as mourners paid their respects to the late Madeleine Albright
4:00PM ( 25 minutes ago )
Dem lawmaker: Biden suggests he'll ease student loan burden
President Joe Biden has signaled he might forgive some student loan debt and further extend the federal moratorium on repayments
3:56PM ( 29 minutes ago )
Disney government in dark about effect of law dissolving it
At the first meeting of Disney World’s private government since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a measure to dissolve it next year, officials were still confused about what the new legislation meant, even as some ripple effects were starting to be felt
3:52PM ( 34 minutes ago )