On March 1, 2022, President Joe Biden delivered the 2022 State of the Union address. In his speech, he expressed support for watchdogs that oversee pandemic funds and ensure that no one is taking advantage of pandemic relief funds. He also formally recognized Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who was invited by First Lady Jill Biden and seated in the viewing box.
Empowering Watchdogs to Sniff Out Pandemic Fraud
After urging the members of Congress in the audience to confirm his nomination for the Federal Reserve, Biden mentioned that his plan “will not only lower costs and give families a fair shot, it will lower the deficit. The previous administration not only ballooned the deficit with those tax cuts for the very wealthy and corporations, it undermined the watchdogs.”
“Remember we had those debates about whether or not those watchdogs should be able to see every day how much money was being spent, where it was going to the right place? In my administration, the watchdogs are back,” Biden announced to applause. “And we’re gonna go after the criminals who stole billions of relief money meant for small business and millions of Americans.” Biden announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) “will soon name a Chief Prosecutor for pandemic fraud.”
In Fiscal Year 2021, the DOJ pursued pandemic-related frauds involving aid programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the department has worked closely with various Inspector Generals and other agency stakeholders to identify, monitor and investigate the misuse of critical pandemic relief monies,” the DOJ stated in a press release.
In the past fiscal year, “the DOJ received 598 qui tam whistleblower lawsuits,” and “the department reported settlements and judgments exceeding $1.6 billion in these and earlier-filed suits,” previous WNN reporting states. Several of the settlements involving improper use of pandemic relief funds and pandemic relief fraud stemmed from whistleblower lawsuits, like a case from February in which a construction company agreed to “pay $53,325 in damages and civil penalties for falsely certifying information on a PPP loan application.”
Recognizing Frances Haugen and Holding Social Media Companies Accountable
Frances Haugen blew the whistle on Facebook in early October of 2021: she came forward with internal research documents and alleged that Facebook continuously made decisions that prioritize profits over the safety of its users. Haugen, a former lead product manager on Facebook’s (now Meta) Civic Misinformation team, testified for the first time in front of a Senate subcommittee on October 5, 2021. “I joined Facebook because I think Facebook has the potential to bring out the best in us, but I’m here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy,” Haugen said in her testimony. “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help.” Read more about Haugen’s Congressional testimony here.
During his State of the Union address, Biden recognized Haugen, who was in attendance. “Children were also struggling before the pandemic: bullying, violence, trauma. And the harms of social media. As Frances Haugen, who is here tonight with us, has shown, we must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit,” Biden said.
“Folks, thank you,” he continued. “Thank you for the courage you show. It’s time to strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising to children, [and] demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children.”
After being recognized at the address, Haugen tweeted:
I’m grateful that @POTUS elevated what social media is doing to kids’ mental health in the State of the Union so we can continue exposing the truth and empowering all parties to change this horrifying reality. #SOTU
— Frances Haugen (@FrancesHaugen) March 2, 2022