Minnesota Democrats have rejected multiple GOP amendments this session designed to prevent state dollars from going to individuals charged with or convicted of fraud.
One of those amendments came from Sen. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, during a debate last week on a universal school meals bill.
His amendment would have prohibited schools from contracting with vendors who are associated with anyone charged with or convicted of fraud, racketeering or money laundering.
“This amendment provides that people that have been convicted, charged, or indicted in Feeding Our Future shouldn’t be anywhere near our schools, these programs, or the kids in our schools,” said Drazkowski.
The amendment failed along party lines.
“This has absolutely nothing to do with Feeding Our Future or fraud or anything,” said Sen. Heather Gustafson, DFL-Vadnais Heights, chief author of the bill.
“It has nothing to do with fraud. This is something that has been in place for generations,” she added.
Drazkowski explained that he wanted to prevent a repeat of the Feeding Our Future scandal, which involved at least 60 Minnesotans allegedly defrauding the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child Nutrition Programs of at least $250 million. The National School Lunch Program is also part of the Child Nutrition Programs. The two programs targeted by fraudsters were the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program.
“The Democrats voted against my amendment to prevent people associated with any type of fraud, especially welfare fraud, from becoming vendors in this expanded program. Whenever you have a giant government program that requires a lot of different vendors, you will have fraud. Whenever government provides things for ‘free,’ there is tremendous waste. This program is likely to result in both,” Drazkowski said in a newsletter.
The new law, which seeks to provide all K-12 students with free breakfast and lunch in all schools, will cost nearly $400 million in just the first two years. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz on Friday.
Last month, Democrats rejected an amendment to prevent payments from going out to Child Care Assistance Program providers who are currently under federal indictment in connection to the Feeding Our Future scandal.
Minnesota DFL rejects Rep. Pat Garofalo's amendment to ensure that more taxpayer dollars aren't sent to organizations currently under indictment for fraud. pic.twitter.com/aSjbcrASmc
— Alpha News (@AlphaNewsMN) February 8, 2023
House Democrats passed a bill to raise reimbursement rates for CCAP providers last month. A 2019 investigation, conducted by the Office of the Legislative Auditor, found that CCAP fraud did take place, alleging that schemes to defraud the program were “more than the $5 to $6 million that prosecutors have been able to prove.”