Q&A: Counterfeit Vaccines and Pandemic Fraud
With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: What are you doing to protect taxpayer dollars included in the pandemic relief laws?
A: Iowans work hard for their money. I work hard to protect hard-earned tax dollars from waste, fraud and abuse. In times of emergency, such as natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government provides urgently needed support and resources to help Americans who have lost homes, farms, livelihoods and paychecks. 2020 has produced one crisis after another. The virus has killed more than 300,000 Americans. Too many families are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Congress approved $4 trillion this year to accelerate vaccine production and send emergency assistance to help health care professionals, unemployed workers, student borrowers, foster youth, farmers, households and small businesses struggling to stay afloat. This historic federal spending will add to the nation’s $27 trillion debt. As a fiscal conservative, it’s a tough pill to swallow. Iowans don’t want to pass the buck on to our children and grandchildren. Borrowing money means every dollar consumed by interest payments means one less dollar for national security, infrastructure, health care and tax relief. The same goes for money lost to waste, fraud and abuse. For example, in the most recent $900 billion pandemic relief package, Congress approved $26 billion to help fight hunger and replenish food assistance programs. Starting Jan. 1, recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will get a 15 percent bump in benefits. Lawmakers owe it to taxpayers to ensure this money is spent to feed hungry kids and their families who have fallen on hard times. Rooting out corruption, theft and fraud tied to pandemic spending is as important as ever. When Congress passed the CARES Act in March, I worked to sharpen the federal government’s anti-fraud and oversight tools. I introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure the federal watchdog tasked to oversee pandemic spending could hit the ground running. The good news is Congress approved a Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery in the CARES Act. The bad news is my bill that would allow this office to get fully staffed and operational as quickly as possible wasn’t included in the most recent pandemic package. Taxpayers don’t want a dog and pony show in charge of oversight. Taxpayers deserve a watchdog with teeth and a bite to match. From my leadership posts in the U.S. Senate, I’ll keep tabs on the public purse and exercise my constitutional oversight responsibilities as rigorously as ever.
Q: Do you have pandemic fraud on your radar that Iowans ought to be watching out for?
A: It’s no secret that bad actors and fraudsters troll federal spending at every turn to take advantage of bloated bureaucracies and pluck the golden goose. My crusade against wasteful spending began at the Department of Defense four decades ago. I soon discovered the Pentagon was only the tip of the iceberg. More lawmakers need to join the oversight bandwagon and invest time and effort to cut fat and fraud from the federal ledgers. In December, I led a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers with Sens. Joni Ernst, Thom Tillis and Chris Coons to commend the Department of Homeland Security and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for their pro-active efforts to combat pandemic-related fraud, including scams targeting unemployment benefits, illicit personal protective equipment and counterfeit vaccines. Operation Stolen Promise was launched in April by HSI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to combat fraud and criminal trafficking of COVID-19 goods. In the first eight months, the anti-fraud operation seized 1,654 items, such as counterfeit test kits, counterfeit masks and banned pharmaceuticals, netting $27.8 million in illicit proceeds. As Americans await their turn to get immunized and roll up their sleeves for the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s vital to reinforce confidence in the safety and integrity of the vaccine. That means the federal government must take decisive steps to stop the spread of misinformation about counterfeit vaccines and stop the sale of fake vaccines in the United States. I’ll continue robust oversight throughout the New Year to ensure America puts its best foot forward in the pandemic recovery and that the public health is protected. I advise Iowans to be wary of scams and fraud. Always consult your health care provider and listen to public health officials so that you and your loved ones get immunized with the vaccines authorized by the FDA when it’s your turn.