Partners in Quality Care reinstated to children’s food program, organization blames MN Dept. of Education for problems

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A non-profit based in St. Paul, Partners In Quality Care, has been reinstated by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to participate in federally-funded children’s food programs.

Several months ago, Partners in Quality Care had its funding suspended by the state after the non-profit group was named in a federal affidavit connected to a massive fraud investigation involving the after-school nutrition programs.

An attorney for Partners in Quality Care has always maintained that the non-profit was never under investigation but shared similar food shelf partners connected to the federal investigation, which is why MDE suspended their participation in the programs.

But, after appealing that decision by MDE, Partners in Quality Care was reinstated a week ago and allowed to participate again. However, some of its food shelves, such as House of Refuge Outreach in St. Paul, are still not being reimbursed for their meals programs.

House of Refuge owner, Sharon Ross, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS she is about $2.5 million behind in reimbursements and is frustrated that MDE just declined Partners in Quality Care’s request to pay her the money she’s owed.

“I was like maybe we should just give up. You know, like, is this the end?,” said Ross. “Why are we going through this same cycle over and over when our whole goal is to feed children.”

Partners in Quality Care, through its attorney, issued a written statement that blames MDE for the problems:

“Partners in Quality Care is elated with last week’s decision by the Appeal Panel. The Appeal Panel agreed with us that MDE simply failed in multiple ways to follow federal law. MDE’s attempts at both suspension and termination of Partners in Quality Care were just wrong.”

Unfortunately, MDE is currently trying to choke off Partners In Quality Care in another way. MDE is, month-by-month, now denying virtually every claim for meal reimbursement that Partners in Quality Care submits. MDE denied 78 of the 79 claims filed for this past November, and for December MDE denied 181 out of the 217 claims filed. We think these claim denials fail to follow federal law in clear ways similar to the recently-reversed suspension and termination attempts. Among other things, the reasons given by MDE for the claim denials are vague to the degree that a meaningful response is nearly impossible. In addition, MDE has now denied claims that are identical or substantially similar to those previously approved by MDE in earlier months, without further explanation. We are accordingly appealing those claim denials, and the hearing before the Appeal Panel for the first month’s round of denials is set for May 26.

In other words, while Partners In Quality Care is thrilled with the Appeals Panel’s ruling today, this sadly appears to be just Round One.

These actions by MDE have devastated Partners In Quality Care’s business. But the ultimate harm has fallen on the sites that depend on federal funding to feed underprivileged populations. Only a handful of at-risk afterschool meals sites sponsored by Partners in Quality Care have been able to continue operations. Some child care centers and adult day care programs have felt compelled to transfer to other sponsors because of delayed payments. Many sites have chosen to continue serving meals and submitting their claims through Partners In Quality Care, though, and the people at Partner In Quality Care could not be more committed to their mission.”

A spokesperson for MDE responded to the criticism from Partners in Quality Care in a written statement as well:

“The appeals process is an iterative one with many steps. MDE is currently working through next steps in the appeals process for this case.”

Partners in Quality Care are appealing these most recent reimbursement denials, and the first hearing is scheduled for May 26.