OP-ED: Fighting fraud and protecting livelihoods
The citizens of the commonwealth have been through so much over the past several months, from economic lockdown to struggling with receiving unemployment compensation from the Department of Labor and Industry.
While Pennsylvania has been reopening, thanks to the work of House and Senate Republicans, there are still two important pieces of COVID-19 policy the Legislature must address prior to the election: fraud and civil immunity.
Currently in the House, House Bill 2352 is ready for action. This bill would create a state false claims act and provide civil immunity protections from COVID-19.
The State False Claims Act is modeled after the premier anti-fraud policy of our nation, the federal False Claims Act, which was put into place by President Abraham Lincoln to deter and hold accountable those unscrupulous characters who would defraud the taxpayers.
Fast forward to 2020, we see trillions of federal dollars flow from Washington, D.C., to state governments to support states and local governments’ ability to deal with COVID-19. Already the U.S. Department of Justice has issued warnings of fraud as prepayment screenings of government dollars have been bypassed to increase the speed of which these federal dollars are allocated.
This creates tremendous ability for fraudsters to operate unchecked. We have already witnessed this with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program. House Bill 2352 will give the Office of Attorney General and our county district attorneys another tool to combat fraud within these federal dollars to ensure programs are made whole and taxpayers are not on the hook to pay for government funds lost to fraud.
The False Claims Act calls for fines of $5,000 to $11,000 and triple damages. This is a huge deterrence for those thinking about committing fraud, but more importantly when fraud does occur it ensures you, the taxpayer, do not have to spend one more dollar to ensure a program is properly funded from actions of fraud. The fraudsters should fully reimburse taxpayers.
A State False Claims Act also allows the commonwealth to participate in federal actions, which means the commonwealth will receive a larger share of settlements, thus again ensuring you, the taxpayer, are fully reimbursed by the fraudsters.
The other policy in House Bill 2352 provides for civil liability protections for those entities that follow health directives. In order for businesses to reopen, schools to continue in-person education, local governments to reopen for in person services, daycare centers to keep watching our children, and health care professionals and facilities to keep doing their heroic work, these entities that are doing the right thing by protecting their customers and employees need civil liability protection.
The civil liability protections in House Bill 2352 will provide all businesses, nonprofits and governments in the commonwealth the relief they need to know they cannot be sued for doing the right thing. Now, House Bill 2352 does still allow lawsuits for gross negligence to ensure bad actors can be held accountable.
Combined, House Bill 2352 provides powerful policy to ensure you as a taxpayer are protected and we as a commonwealth can responsibly deal with the realities of COVID-19. House Bill 2352 is a win/win for Pennsylvania. I urge my colleagues to support this commonsense measure to fight fraud and protect livelihoods.