President Obama’s $757 billion economic stimulus program was promoted in 2009 as a way to jump-start the U.S. economy by injecting tax dollars that would stimulate new jobs and growth, especially through spending on new infrastructure like roads and bridges.
But hundreds of millions of dollars spent in the program went instead to elderly Filipinos, much of it virtually guaranteed never to make its way back to the U.S. economy.
Tucked away in the stimulus was a provision to pay $9,000 each to residents of the Philippines who fought alongside the U.S. in World War II. Those who had become U.S. citizens since the war got $15,000. The Philippines is a Pacific nation that was a U.S. Territory, beginning in 1898 when it was acquired during the Spanish-American War. The Philippines became independent in 1946.
The stimulus payments — called Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation — started in April 2009. More than $225 million has since been paid to more than 18,000 Filipino vets. Slightly less than half of those now have U.S. citizenship, but may still live in the Philippines. The program was originally slated to spend $198 million.
For decades, the Department of Veterans Affairs has operated its only outpost on foreign soil in the Philippines providing benefits to its nationals.
Administering a program that writes checks to people for actions performed 75 years ago in a third-world country is not easy. Some Filipinos actually fought on the Japanese side. The VA tries to avoid rewarding enemy soldiers by checking names against lists confiscated from the Japanese army, but fraud is not uncommon.
“In order to combat high levels of fraud the office staff use a variety of methods, including using photographs and interviews to determine identity, verifying claims using forensic analysis, and using WWII Japanese records to determine whether a Filipino WWII veteran collaborated with the enemy during the war,” the Government Accountability Office wrote of VA operations in the Philippines.
The White House described the stimulus program as a way to “save and create jobs immediately while also laying the foundation for a robust and sustainable 21st century economy by modernizing our health care, improving our schools, modernizing our infrastructure, and investing in the clean energy technologies of the future.”
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