Republican federal lawmakers are investigating the historic wave of COVID-19 pandemic fraud that struck New York, raising allegations of Democratic leadership failures and a potential political coverup.
The requests for documents and data are focused on billions of dollars in unemployment insurance benefits lost to fraud. A state audit estimated $11 billion was lost to fraud, while state Labor Department officials asserted the true total is $4 billion.
Republicans have accused Democrats of failing to fix long-standing systemic flaws that allowed fraudsters to steal the tax dollars intended for New Yorkers who lost jobs, according to House Oversight Committee letters seeking detailed information from state officials.
Some GOP lawmakers also questioned whether state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli intentionally delayed release of the scathing unemployment fraud audit until after election day to shield fellow Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul from her challenger Lee Zeldin, a Long Island Republican.
What federal lawmakers want to know about NY COVID fraud
Central to the federal probe is a dispute between DiNapoli's office and state Labor Department Commissioner Roberta Reardon over the amount of fraud.
New York labor officials were unable to provide auditors with documentation to support several of their claims of fraud prevention efforts, according to the state audit. Reardon also recently asserted on Capital Tonight that she could not release underlying data related to the $4 billion fraud estimate because it was protected information.
Federal lawmakers requested that underlying data as well as other records related to state efforts to prevent the pandemic fraud.
"The residents of New York deserve to understand how the state failed them through its lack of preparation and incompetence regarding its unemployment insurance system," Rep. James Comer, R-Kentucky, wrote in the letter.
The focus on fraud comes as the USA TODAY Network reported recently about the army of fraudsters who targeted pandemic aid, including state workers who stole unemployment funds. New state laws seeking to crack down of fraud also recently took effect.
When was NY COVID fraud audit released?
The unemployment audit release on Nov. 15 after Hochul won an historically tight election a week prior prompted the federal probe into DiNapoli's handling of the situation, according to a letter from GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-Canandaigua and Rep. Elise Sefanik, R-Schuylerville.
"Voters should have been informed of these damning allegations of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement by Governor Hochul's (Labor Department) prior to the election," the letter stated.
DiNapoli's office didn't immediately provide comments responding to the allegations.
The audit asserted labor department officials failed to provide timely responses to requests for information during the audit process. The agencies had a meeting in May 2021 to address the delays, the audit noted, adding labor officials often took more than five months to provide information.
The final audit was released more than a year-and-half after that initial May 2021 meeting.
Some Republican lawmakers recently urged Hochul to include funding in the upcoming state budget to pay down the $7.8 billion in unemployment system debt accumulated by New York during the crisis. Business leaders have complained they have been shouldering costs related to the debt repayment linked to systemic failures.