Agency expects to shell out billions to claw back COVID-19 financial aid overpayments
Ten employees of the Canada Revenue Agency are suspected of receiving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) while working for the organization responsible for disbursing it, according to a report in The National Post. The Canada Revenue Agency recently disclosed it expects to spend around $1 billion attempting to recover billions of dollars in potential overpayments for six COVID-19 financial assistance programs.
The $74.8 billion program fell under the management of the CRA, which is now primarily responsible for recovering billions in overpayments from hundreds of thousands of Canadians. A beneficiary must have lost their job as a result of the pandemic in order to qualify for CERB.
Conservative MP Michael Kram questioned CRA commissioner Bob Hamilton in early February about whether his organization had terminated any employee who had claimed COVID-19 benefits such as the $2,000 per month CERB. Hamilton admitted at the time that he did not know the details but that there were "not very many”.
In a written update to the committee one month later, CRA informed the MPs that it believed 10 of its approximately 42,000 workers had been discovered with their hand in the CERB slush fund.
The CRA dismissed an unknown number of those 10 employees, according to spokeswoman Sylvie Branch. She wouldn't say how many, though, citing the fact that it was "so small" that revealing the number would inadvertently lead to the identification of one or more of them.
The agency, which stated it may submit certain cases to authorities if it felt "criminality" was involved, is still actively investigating other cases. Last month, the CRA chief said that no instances had been forwarded to law enforcement and that they had instead been handled "internally."
“Any CRA employees who claimed the CERB would be required to repay the amounts received and be subject to our normal collection methods,” Branch said in an email.
Employees who falsely applied for CERB had to be terminated from other federal departments that were involved with disbursing pandemic benefits as well. Mary Crescenzi, the head of Employment and Social Development Canada’s integrity services, said that the agency had terminated 49 employees who had received the benefit while still employed by the company.
The CRA also disclosed that, as of March 2022, it has already spent $331 million on post-payment verifications for the 12 pandemic relief initiatives set in place by the government in the document given to the committee earlier this week.
By the completion of its post-payment verification activities, the government anticipates spending a total of over $1 billion, including an additional $692 million on audit, verification, and collection operations through 2026.