Indianapolis Busines Journal. June 17, 2022.
Editorial: Investigators must research, root out COVID-relief fraud
Getting to the bottom of fraud that occurred when local, state and federal governments leapt into action in 2020 and 2021 to provide pandemic relief is important—not only to hold those who cheated to account but also in terms of developing better programs when emergencies occur in the future.
But in doing so, we should resist the urge to politicize the problems or spend too much time placing blame.
Instead, as investigators and prosecutors continue their work, we should remember the frenetic pace at which government agencies were working to implement relief programs approved by Congress and the impatience so many of us had about when grants, payments and other aid would be available to those who needed it.
Remember that the unemployment rate shot up suddenly, flooding state unemployment agencies with applications. Then Congress approved relief that went way beyond the parameters of the traditional unemployment system, making millions of additional people eligible and requiring states to completely retool software programs to administer the benefits.
The federal government put up a Paycheck Protection Program—known as PPP—in weeks, a loan program for which rules were written quickly and that banks had to administer with little training or guidance, all while dealing with a crush of desperate business owners.
And there were other programs that had never been tried before—grant programs to assist live entertainment venues, help not-for-profits and more.
At the time, organizers and administrators of these programs—and the elected officials who created and funded them—had to know that fraud would be a problem. There’s just no way around it.
The calculation at the time was that moving money quickly to the people and businesses who needed it was paramount. And for the most part, those programs did help millions of people who were out of work—some temporarily, some longer term. It helped thousands of businesses keep workers on staff. It helped restaurants—at least some of them—limp through until customers returned.
The programs were far from perfect. But assuming they could have worked without problems is unrealistic.
That’s not to say government officials, business leaders and others shouldn’t learn from the mistakes—and root out the fraud that stripped millions (probably billions) of dollars away from taxpayers and people who needed it. Punishing people who knowingly accessed aid by fraudulent means is not only a chance to recover some of that money but also an opportunity to send a message that the behavior is unacceptable.
The ongoing investigations also allow policymakers to see how they can improve such programs in future emergencies—and there will be future emergencies. It would be absurd if we didn’t learn from the mistakes made during this process so we can do better next time.
But we should consider all of the information we learn within the context of the chaotic time we are living in—and when appropriate, we should give people, policymakers and administrators the benefit of the doubt.
Anderson Herald Bulletin. June 20, 2022.
Editorial: Jan. 6 and Mike Pence as a sympathetic character
“Maybe our supporters have the right idea … Mike Pence deserves it.”
That sentiment, attributed to then-President Donald Trump, was cited June 9 by U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., vice chair of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump reportedly made the comment about his vice president as rioters were shouting, “Hang Mike Pence.”
Just hearing Cheney repeat the words should have brought a chill to Americans still respecting our democratic election process and the peaceful transfer of executive power.
When it comes to Mike Pence, many Hoosiers continue to cringe over his signing as Indiana governor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 2015. The legislation allowed individuals and businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ+ people by claiming a religious or moral exemption. Ther was a national outcry over RFRA, and a weaker bill was signed about 10 days later.
In 2015, news organizations criticized Pence’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to create a state-run, taxpayer-funded news service that would compete with professional outlets by even offering “breaking news.” Pence reinstated a mandatory minimum for drug offenders and sought to block the relocation of Syrian war refugees in Indiana.
He did nothing when confronted with a lead contamination crisis in East Chicago and dragged his feet in addressing an HIV outbreak.
For that social agenda, Pence is prone to drawing ire from liberal groups, late night talk show hosts and the cast of “Hamilton.” Now he’s drawn the wrath unexpectedly from the other side — an ultra-right gang of thugs spurred into action by Trump.
Despite Pence’s anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and often-superfluous biases, it is somewhat ironic that he has become the prominent sympathetic character amid the entire Jan. 6 scenario, if not throughout the Trump presidency. But let’s not pity Pence despite his earnestness.
Of course, no one upholding an Electoral College count — however flawed the process — should be hanged. Pence did his civic duty in resisting Trump’s bid to stay in power. As Pence led the count in the Capitol, rioters translated Trump’s whining into a rallying cry that could have ended in Pence’s assassination.
One might think that such a threatening chain of events — and Trump’s “deserves it” revelation — would now have Pence begging to testify at the Jan. 6 committee hearings.
But Pence is too calculated, too cautious, too hesitant to sever ties with elements of the right even if they want him swinging from a makeshift gallows. While Pence typically thinks he is a leading voice of respectable Republicans, he often misses the point that there is a common ground that Americans expect to be found between parties.
Pence might have to bend to compromise, and that doesn’t seem to be in his character.
Pence may want to run for the presidency, but he can’t afford to disconnect with the conservative base. He likely won’t appear before a Democratic-led investigative committee.
Indeed, Mike Pence is the sympathetic poster boy of the Jan. 6 investigation. But that alone won’t endear him to those who remember his past missteps.