Pandemic funds create major workload for legislative auditor

Pandemic funds create major workload for legislative auditor

Pandemic funds create major workload for legislative auditor

The job of trying to account for what went wrong with government oversight of $250 million in the Feeding our Future program and $500 million in the Frontline Worker Pay Program falls largely in the lap of the Minnesota Legislative Auditor. It is not an easy job.

“We always go in with an open mind so we didn’t know what we would find,” says Judy Randall, legislative auditor since 2021.

What her office finds is often mind-boggling. For instance, in an audit of the Feeding our Future program she learned of many red flags that should have caused the Minnesota Department of Education, which oversaw the program, to launch investigations.

“The red flags the department saw or should have seen starting way back in 2017, 2018, well before the pandemic,” Randall said. “Well before the lawsuits that happened with Feeding our Future.”

After the pandemic started the red flags got even bigger. According to an audit report, “At its peak, Feeding Our Future claimed to have served 11.8 million meals and snacks in April 2021, a 7,104 percent increase from the same month a year prior.” Still, MDE paid the organization $32 million for that month, 87 times more than in April 2020.

“One complicating factor is that increase was during the pandemic and the federal government did issue waivers about how those meals could be provided,” Randall says. “So it shifted from one meal, one student sitting at a table all together, to here’s a bag of meals for your family. So the numbers … it makes sense the numbers increased. It didn’t make sense the numbers increased as much as they did.”

Eventually, the Feeding Our Future fraud may have reached $250 million. Five people were just convicted in the case, two were found not guilty, and 63 more face federal charges and trials in connection to the child nutrition program.

As for the $500 million in state money for the Frontline Worker Pay Program, Randall says it’s clear millions of that probably went to people who were not eligible.

“We could only confirm that 60% of the paid applicants were eligible,” she said in an interview recorded for “At Issue” that will air at 10 a.m. Sunday. “As you said, the remaining 40% either we could not confirm they were eligible or we could, in fact, confirm they were ineligible.”

Randall’s office has several more audits in the works, including another audit of the long-delayed, way-over-budget Southwest Light Rail project. That report is due out later this summer.