Townhall has reported on several situations in which Americans took advantage of COVID-19 pandemic programs and defrauded the government to enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers, but it turns out there were also perfectly legal loopholes that allowed wealthy Americans to take unemployment benefits — even those who had annual incomes over $1 million.
Recent data released by the IRS reveal that thousands of Americans — 19,003 to be exact — reported receiving unemployment compensation in 2020 despite having adjusted gross income of greater than $1 million that year. The amount of unemployment compensation that those millionaires received totaled $263,794,000.
And while that roughly $264 million may be just a rounding error in the grand view of the federal government's massive budget, it's a significant amount of money that was supposed to help those struggling to make ends meet after COVID-19 upended the U.S. economy that ended up in the bank accounts of millionaires who should have been able to make it through a loss in income without taxpayer help.
Especially when, upon a closer look at the IRS data at a more granular income level, it turns out that more than 200 Americans who reported income of more than $10 million were also collecting unemployment checks, getting paid for not working despite seemingly having the means to survive without needing a bailout via unemployment compensation.
This jarring reality — that scores of Americans earning millions of dollars in 2020 were also cashing unemployment checks — is not surprising to lawmakers like Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) who've tried to close loopholes that allow those with means to profit from those who may be less fortunate but are still working and paying taxes to fund programs such as unemployment assistance.
Ernst was wise to this loophole allowing millionaires to profit off hardworking taxpayers and has repeatedly tried to close it. Her first effort came during the pandemic in early 2020 when she introduced the Returning Inappropriate Cash Handouts (RICH) Act to keep COVID unemployment benefits from going to millionaires, and again in February 2021 when she filed an amendment to block out of work millionaires from getting more benefits.
"As I warned in 2020, essential workers — many of whom were working around the clock while putting their lives at risk — had money taken out of their wallets to line the pockets of millionaires who weren’t working," Ernst said. “The annual price tag for this reverse-millionaire tax totaled $264 million, she Iowa Republican reminded. "The true million-dollar question is: why did Congress continue to pay the rich not to work," she asked rhetorically. "With the U.S. national debt now exceeding $31 trillion, ending this welfare for the wealthy is a good place to start trimming Washington’s excesses."
Indeed it is. And that's why Ernst — along with her Democrat counterpart Jon Tester of Montana — are introducing new legislation aimed at finally stopping unemployment benefits from going to millionaires. Their bill, the Ending Unemployment Payments to Jobless Millionaires Act of 2022, would stop unemployment compensation from going to anyone making more than $1 million despite having lost a job.
"Hard-working folks across this country were on the front lines during the COVID pandemic, putting their lives at risk to ensure that our communities had access to the goods and services they needed," Sen. Tester noted of his and Ernst's bipartisan effort to trim spending where it's not needed. "The fact is these folks weren’t eligible for unemployment checks, but unemployed millionaires who were able to stay home, were," he added. "That’s not right, and this bill will right that wrong by making sure American taxpayer dollars are not wasted on making the rich richer."
Will Ernst and Tester's colleagues have the fortitude to take action on their bipartisan bill to prevent out of work millionaires from collecting checks paid for by those who are still working? Time will tell. Hopefully, though, Ernst won't have occasion to give another of her Squeal awards to jobless millionaires taking handouts from hardworking taxpayers.