The Walz administration, and by extension DFL candidates around the state, have taken heat in the wake of the scandal over Feeding Our Future. Republican candidates have raised the issue time and again, suggesting that Gov. Walz and his fellow DFLers are somehow soft on corruption, having allegedly allowed approximately $250 million in federal COVID funds earmarked to feed hungry children to go to an organization that used the money to vastly enrich a handful of officers.
The story certainly deserves the coverage it’s received in the media and it’s worth taking a closer look to better understand how such a crime was allowed to continue for more than a year and a half, despite the concerns of officials at the Department of Education, who flagged Feeding Our Future within weeks of the start of the program.
What we know from a timeline prepared by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), which processed the Feeding our Future claims for the federal government, as well as from court records reviewed by the Timberjay, is that MDE tried to put the brakes on Feeding Our Future from early on. The program started in June of 2020 and within weeks MDE had reached out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversaw the program, seeking advice over how to address its concerns about the organization. During this time, Feeding Our Future was seeking approval for hundreds of feeding sites across the Twin Cities and had dramatically ramped up its billings through the program. The year prior, Feeding Our Future had received $3.4 million for the food programs it was administering, apparently legitimately. In 2021, however, the group received nearly $200 million, very little of which appears to have gone to feed kids.
By October of 2020, MDE reached out to the USDA Inspector General with its concerns about what was happening. The following month, after MDE raised more concerns, Feeding Our Future sued the department, which began a year-long slog through the district court. In the meantime, MDE took additional action, ending approval of new sites by December. By January of 2021, MDE had declared the group seriously deficient due to incomplete financial audits. By March, they declared them deficient on performance standards and issued a “stop-pay” order that halted all payments to the group until MDE could verify their claims were valid. The department also halted approvals of any new sites.
That prompted the group to go back to court seeking a temporary restraining order and a Ramsey County judge told MDE it lacked authority to stop the payments, which then resumed. By June, the same judge slapped MDE with fines and fees totaling more than $45,000 for its efforts to halt Feeding Our Future’s abuses.
As a result, the organization continued to receive payments until the FBI executed search warrants on the group in January 2022, at which time MDE took immediate action to terminate its agreements with the company, as it had tried to do for more than a year.
Much of the $250 million paid out to Feeding Our Future was issued in 2021, when the group took in over $180 million between two programs it was operating. Yet, MDE had notified the feds of the problem back in 2020. Feeding Our Future, by audaciously using the courts as a shield, was able to continue their illegal activity for another 14 months.
We agree that it’s legitimate to ask what other steps MDE might have taken, but it is entirely inaccurate and unfair to suggest that there was a lack of due diligence or concern by the Department of Education. MDE had been raising red flags about the organization almost from the beginning.
One could ask why federal officials didn’t respond more aggressively, but with trillions of dollars in COVID relief being shoveled out the door in 2020, it’s not a surprise that the feds were a bit slow in their response. Yet, before the GOP tries to use it all for politics, it should be noted that the federal system which failed to respond in a timely manner to concerns raised almost immediately by MDE was established and operating under the Trump administration. It was under the Biden administration, which took over in early 2021, that the feds finally took action to put a halt to the abuse.
What’s more, the judge who blocked MDE’s attempts to clamp down on Feeding Our Future more than a year earlier was appointed by GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
This certainly was a shameful scandal, but it’s one where Republicans have no business pointing fingers. There’s plenty of blame to go around.
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Thursday, October 20, 2022 Report this