Partners in Quality Care sues Minnesota Department of Education over lack of funding

A St. Paul nonprofit is suing the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) for having its federal funding cut off.

The federal lawsuit filed on Friday is the latest move in a long battle between the organization and the education department.

MDE told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS in early February that it had suspended food program funding to Partners in Quality Care (PIQC) and proposed terminating the organization’s participation in two federally funded food programs.

That action came after PIQC’s name surfaced in FBI search warrants during an investigation into alleged fraud by Child and Adult Care Food Program participants in Minnesota, including Feeding our Future. While PIQC’s name showed up in the search warrants and at least two men whose companies received funding from PIQC are being investigated for using the funding in a fraudulent manner, PIQC maintains that it hasn’t ever been accused of doing anything illegal and hasn’t been told that it is a target of the federal investigation.

PIQC appealed MDE’s decision to suspend its funding, which was reinstated in May.

The organization’s lawsuit says MDE “has recklessly concluded” that PIQC participated in in the crimes that federal authorities are still investigating and is now using unlawful administrative efforts to shut down the organization.

Among those alleged unlawful administrative efforts is the denial of hundreds of claims for reimbursement for meals. It also says MDE again suspended PIQC from the Child and Adult Care Food Program in August.

Additionally, PIQC’s lawsuit says MDE has not provided the organization with any evidence showing it knowingly submitted a false or fraudulent claim, didn’t follow federal procedures for terminating its participation in the Child and Adult Care Food Program and is violating the due process clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“The cumulative effect on PIQC’s operations in 2022 is palpable. In January, PIQC had 14 staff members and that number is currently down to 8,” the lawsuit states, in part. “In January, PIQC had 44 Adult Care Centers, and now it has 34. In January PIQC had 45 Childcare Centers and now it is down to 30. In January, PIQC had 319 At Risk After School Programs, and now it has zero.”

In response to the lawsuit, MDE gave the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Monday:

“It would be inappropriate for MDE to comment on pending litigation. We want to be clear: MDE remains committed to ensuring that young people have access to healthy and nutritious meals. We work to make sure that any providing organization that previously worked with PIN can continue to serve children.”