Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) on Thursday voted for a bill that seeks to crack down on unemployment benefits fraud — the same crime he was charged with one day earlier.
The legislation — which passed in a 230-200 vote — calls for incentivizing states to recover fraudulently paid unemployment benefits. It came to the floor the day after Santos was indicted in New York on 13 federal charges accusing him of deceiving donors, lying on his financial disclosure forms and fraudulently receiving unemployment benefits.
The charges are seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives. Santos pleaded not guilty.
The New York Republican signed on to be a co-sponsor of the bill — titled the Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act — in March.
Federal prosecutors allege Santos fraudulently received unemployment benefits, totaling more than $24,000, after incorrectly claiming he was unemployed during part of the pandemic.
The indictment — unsealed Wednesday morning — says Santos applied for unemployment benefits in June 2020, falsely stating he had been unemployed since March of that year. Between June 2020 and April 2021, Santos certified his continued eligibility for unemployment benefits on a weekly basis, even though he had received a salary of $120,000 for being a regional director at a Florida-based investment firm, according to prosecutors.
According to a report from the Labor Department inspector general, individuals may have fraudulently received $45.6 billion in unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
Asked outside the Long Island courthouse on Wednesday why he would apply to receive unemployment benefits when he was working and earning a salary, Santos told reporters the claim laid out by prosecutors is incorrect.
“This is inaccurate information, and I will get to clear my name on this,” Santos said. “During the pandemic, it wasn’t very clear. I don’t understand where the government’s getting their information, but I will present my facts.”
After Thursday’s vote, Santos said he did not have doubts supporting the bill.
“No, not at all,” he said, adding that the unemployment benefit allegations against him are “inaccurate… we’ll defend that.”
The legislation passed in the House on Thursday seeks to provide incentives to states to take steps toward recovering unemployment payments that were wrongly obtained.
Specifically, it would allow states to keep 25 percent of the fraudulent funds they claw back and give states the ability to use their rewards for recovering funds to improve unemployment insurance integrity and fraud prevention, including by hiring investigators and prosecutors to target criminals to get fraud payments back and modernizing systems for verifying identity and income when claiming unemployment.
Additionally, it would expand the statute of limitations for criminal charges or civil actions related to prosecuting fraud from five to 10 years.
Updated at 7:42 p.m.