Audit finds compliance, oversight issues in Minnesota’s Senior Nutrition Program

A newly released report on a program that aims to promote the well-being of older Minnesotans and provide healthy meals highlights several compliance and oversight issues.

The Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) released its report Monday morning, detailing a lack of internal controls and issues with following legal requirements by the Minnesota Board on Aging and the state’s Area Agencies on Aging.

OLA noted nine main findings in its report, which covers a yearlong audit of the Senior Nutrition Program last year. Those findings included a failure to keep necessary documents or review and approve contracts, insufficient monitoring and oversight, and not recertifying program participants or properly updating the state’s participant database.

It’s a federal program dating back to 1965 that offers healthy meals primarily to people who are at least 60 years old, with the Minnesota Board on Aging (MBA), Area Agencies on Aging and service providers administering the program in Minnesota. The program received $11.1 million in federal funding last year, plus around $2.7 million from the state, with nearly one-third of the program’s costs coming from its administration and management.

The program serves around 40,000 Minnesotans but MBA and Area Agencies aren’t able to provide direct services due to federal regulations, which has led to the hiring of 17 service providers and 131 subcontractors to administer the program. The good news is OLA didn’t find any issues with the legitimacy of any of the service providers and subcontractors it reviewed.

However, the audit determined that not all of the subcontractors had proper contracts with the service providers, and most of the subcontractors were for-profit businesses, which requires additional approval that seems to have been missed.

Additionally, many participants surveyed by auditors said they were required to pay for their meals. Federal laws allow participants to contribute but don’t require payments for the program meals.

More concerning is that OLA found that MBA hasn’t conducted any monitoring visits since 2017, and the board didn’t have any documents showing proof of financial reconciliations in 2022. OLA’s report notes that those monitoring visits help ensure program compliance while the financial reconciliations helps ensure funds are being used properly.

In its review, the auditors found several issues that could’ve been caught by a timely financial reconciliation, including one service provider using only around $1,100 of its nearly $250,000 reimbursement for food costs, with most of that funding going toward payroll. Of that allocation, the service provider was supposed to use $38,000 for food costs and another $5,000 for food containers, the report states.

Area Agencies also failed to conduct required site visits of service providers and subcontractors, the report adds, with six of the seven Area Agencies on Aging falling short of the required number and two not completing any visits in 2022.

In response to the findings, MBA Executive Director Kari Benson wrote that the board and its Area Agencies were “continuing to administer the significantly increased funding level that Minnesota received during the pandemic.” Benson said that increase more than doubled the funding MBA was administering.

Since OLA’s audit, Benson said the board has “been making strong progress on addressing the issues identified in your report,” adding that MBA used some funding to pay for a review by an outside contractor and help implement necessary changes.

Overall, Benson didn’t disagree with any of OLA’s findings and instead noted that plans were in place to address many of the issues, although some of them are expected to take the majority of next year to fix, with some even stretching into 2025.

Several Area Agencies also responded to the report. To read those responses and OLA’s entire report, click here.