Congress is thinking about a new economic stimulus package to cope with the virus crisis. It should make sure that no benefits go to anyone but citizens and green card holders. Just relying on the presence of Social Security numbers, as seemed to be the case the last time around, is not sufficient.
The new program, which is said to be near the one trillion-dollar level, should make it clear that:
- Benefits are not to be given to anyone but eligible citizens and permanent resident aliens; and
- Benefits should only go to those whose Social Security numbers were issued to that person.
Perhaps people, such as alien spouses in their first two years of marriage, and EB-5 investors, in the first two years of their investments, both of whom have conditional green cards during those two years, should be eligible, as they are on their way to permanent status.
Another wrinkle: It is perfectly possible for an alien to have a legitimate SSN that is no longer valid; these, too, should be excluded from benefits.
As we reported earlier, the hapless (or diabolical) local government in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI, a few miles north of Guam) managed to design an application form for an earlier round of these benefits that did not provide for the possibility that the alien applicant might be legally present in the U.S., but not eligible for the benefits. (Guam did not make this mistake.)
The governor of CNMI and CNMI's (largely voteless) delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives are both vocal supporters of benefits for the island's own special foreign worker program, those on CW-1 visas. The reason is that it would bring floods of money to the islands, as these workers constitute almost half of the territory's workers.
The Dog That Did Not Bark in the Night. A recent CNMI government report tells of the extent of local fraud in the program that suggests to me at least that the officials are turning a blind eye to illicit payments to the CW-1 workers. The quotations below are from a CNMI government press release published by the Marianas Variety, a local daily.
After an initial CNMI DOL audit of paper check payments, findings concluded that more than 1,000 checks were made out to non-CNMI claimants. As a result, and due to the department's obligation to ensure that no benefits payments were issued to ineligible applicants, the department made efforts to flag all claimants with non-CNMI physical or mailing addresses and offshore accounts on hiremarianas.com. The department has also increased its staffing with the Benefits Payment Control or BPC Unit to monitor and seize all fraudulent payouts.
Think about that first sentence. Here is a government that is so sloppy that it sends out benefit checks meant for residents — more than 1,000 of them — to those who did not have CNMI addresses. The checks were funded by Uncle Sam, so why worry?
Well, the CNMI has done something about that particular fraud, one that would not help the islands, but let's keep reading:
As of November 30, 2020, the Benefits Payment Control (BPC) Unit has identified 625 overpayment cases worth over $5.5M. Overpayment activity typically occurs when claimants do not report wage earnings correctly or when claimants commit fraud to obtain PUA benefits.
The initials stand for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Perhaps I am overreacting, but when a government report dealing with fraud in a benefit program specifically mentions only checks mailed off-island and cases where wages have been overstated, I start to wonder. Why not discuss the biggest potential problem of them all, payments of these benefits to CW-1 workers, which an informant has told us were made frequently.
We plan to share our thoughts on this with both the Marianas Variety and some federal officials.