Lawmakers are also looking at boosting oversight of state grants to Minnesota nonprofits after a report found lax policy compliance.
In the wake of the massive Feeding Our Future fraud investigation, the Minnesota Department of Education is seeking to bolster state regulations for organizations that provide meals to kids outside of the school day.
The proposed legislation, which would require new training and exclude newly created meal-sponsoring organizations, is part of the omnibus House education finance bill and the omnibus Senate education policy bill.
Lawmakers are also considering boosting oversight of state nonprofit grants after a February report found “pervasive noncompliance” by state agencies overseeing millions of dollars distributed to nonprofits each year.
The proposals come amid heavy scrutiny of government funding to Minnesota nonprofits. The FBI raided Feeding Our Future’s St. Anthony offices in 2022, revealing a fraud scheme amounting to more than $250 million — one of the largest pandemic-related fraud cases in the United States, according to prosecutors.
Assistant Education Commissioner Daron Korte said the proposed legislation would have prevented Feeding Our Future from opening so many food distribution sites and would help close loopholes going forward.
“These are things that we think will … increase the integrity and performance of the programs,” Korte said. “Would it have prevented fraud? I guess I can’t speculate on that.”
The state Education Department enforces federal rules and disburses money for the federally funded meal programs, but the Legislature has to sign off on any policy changes because Minnesota is one of seven states where the state agency doesn’t have general rulemaking authority.
Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, who chairs the Senate Education Policy Committee, said the regulations have bipartisan support, given the Feeding Our Future scandal, and are likely to be approved this year.
“We want to make sure there are safeguards and that we’re holding these organizations accountable,” said Rep. Laurie Pryor, DFL-Minnetonka, chair of the House Education Policy Committee. “These are commonsense ideas.”
Since September, 60 people have been charged in the Feeding Our Future case. Prosecutors say they stole taxpayer money to buy luxury cars, lakefront homes and other personal items instead of feeding needy kids. Some food sites fed no children, prosecutors say, while others greatly inflated meal counts.
The meal programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), reimbursing schools, child care centers and nonprofits for feeding low-income students after school and in the summer.