Labor Department watchdog focuses coronavirus review on unemployment benefits, OSHA

Washington

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The top watchdog at the U.S. Department of Labor testified before a House committee Monday about whether the money Congress approved to help millions of unemployed Americans during the coronavirus crisis is getting to the workers who need it.

“It significantly increases the risk of fraud,” Inspector General Scott Dahl told lawmakers.

With billions of dollars in relief funds flowing from Washington, Dahl said criminals across the country are working to take advantage.

“We are currently investigating the alleged theft and fraudulent use of over three dozen healthcare workers’ identities that were stolen while they were combating COVID-19,” he said.

Dahl told lawmakers these fraudulent unemployment claims are just one example of the hundreds of coronavirus-related cases his office is investigating.

“The funds that we’re talking about here must go to those individuals that are eligible to receive it,” said Rep. Jody Hice, R-GA.  

Hice wants Americans to be able to go back to work, but Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-MD, said they need rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to return safely.

“It has refused to issue emergency standards that would protect workers,” Raskin said.

Raskin stressed employees have filed thousands of complaints with OSHA, mostly in the meat packing industry. But so far, only one citation has been handed out.

Dahl said his office will continue evaluating OSHA. 

“In terms of their efforts in protecting employees as they return to work,” he said.  

The briefing comes weeks after President Trump has removed, criticized or attacked five different inspectors general for doing their jobs.

While Dahl plans to release his initial report at the end of this month, lawmakers like Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-VA, are working on legislation to protect the integrity of his and the other government watchdogs’ work.

“IGs fight for taxpayers and speak truth to power,” Connolly said. 

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