According to the US Justice Dept, 3,200 defendants have so far been charged with COVID-19 relief fraud.
What do these fraudsters look like, you ask? Well, a Long Island physician pled guilty to stealing $3.8 million and using it to pay off malpractice lawsuits and to purchase a private island, Rolex watches, and a yacht. A former pizzeria owner and crypto bro was sent to prison for filing bogus applications for more than $660,000 in loans used for personal expenses, including the purchase of an alpaca farm in Vermont. It’s hard to say yet how much of the COVID relief aid was stolen in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, but estimates are in the range of $280 billion, with an additional $123 billion wasted or misspent. In actuality, only about one-quarter of the $4.5 trillion taxpayer dollars spent during COVID went directly to working people – $800 billion in stimulus checks and $600 billion in unemployment.
But that list of 3,200 defendants doesn’t include the ten richest men in the world who more than doubled their fortunes during the first two years of the pandemic. That’s right – the majority of the funds intended for our relief ended up in the pockets of a few dozen people and big corporations. During the first two years of the pandemic, Zuckerberg, Bezos, Musk, Gates, and a handful of others collectively made over $1.3 billion per day and now have six times more wealth than the poorest 3.1 billion people. For comparison, it would cost about $58 billion per year to make public college free in the US.
The $2.2 trillion CARES Act, promoted as a mechanism to combat working peoples’ suffering, ended up exacerbating it in the aftermath of COVID. The first $350 billion round of payouts in PPP loans was depleted within just two weeks, virtually none of it going to small businesses. The Treasury Dept unsurprisingly refused to list the first beneficiaries of these funds, and even after the second round of payouts, the smallest companies were found to be the least likely to receive assistance.
A survey of Black and Latino business owners found that just 12% received the assistance they requested. But $54 billion of the CARES Act funds went to major airlines, like American Airlines, whose workers are still fighting to earn a living wage despite the company being given a huge federal bailout package. The bill’s structural flaws made wealthier colleges and universities eligible for far more funding, while community colleges were left out to dry. Community care centers and hospitals located in poorer regions (where patients are more likely to be on Medicaid) went neglected, while the hospitals serving wealthier patients (more likely covered by private health insurance) ate up all of the allocated funds.
The majority of working people breathed a huge sigh of relief upon receiving those stimulus checks, unemployment, and child tax credits. For the first time, we got a bailout of our own and a glimpse of the basic social welfare enjoyed by workers in other wealthy countries, but those days are long gone. A remarkable percentage of us are still struggling from the impacts of COVID-19. The pandemic saw over 160 million people forced into poverty, and many are still trying desperately to stay afloat in the face of a rising cost of living, inflation, and the demoralizing effects of global conflict and climate catastrophe.
Of the entire US working class, half of us don’t even have savings. Many of us have resorted to paying rent on credit and feel as though we’re one bad day away from being houseless. Though the Biden administration relentlessly attempts to gaslight us about the state of the economy, the median household income has fallen for the entire duration of his presidency, while the super-rich are getting richer. The astronomical amount of COVID relief money that went to billionaires could’ve made enough vaccines for the entire globe, provided universal healthcare and social protection, funded a Green New Deal, and made public college free. All this, and those ten men would still be billions of dollars richer than they were before March 2020.
The US government’s COVID-19 “relief” plan was always engineered to benefit the ruling class, and the lives of working people remain hanging in the balance, regardless of which billionaire party “wins” the presidency. We lose – every time. Our greatest leverage against this rigged system is on the shop floor and in the streets. We must link our struggles with those who are fighting to organize our workplaces for better wages and the students and youth taking to the streets to fight climate catastrophe and gun violence. Unions are at their highest support in decades; about a million Americans have received double-digits raises as a result, and that’s something we all deserve – a fighting union, living wages, affordable housing, Medicare for all, and a society free from oppression and exploitation.