The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been “wholly evasive” and ignored document requests regarding the Feeding Our Future scandal, according to a letter sent to USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack this week.
A total of 60 Minnesotans have been charged in what federal officials have described as a “brazen scheme of staggering proportions.” At the center of the case is a defunct nonprofit organization known as Feeding Our Future, which participated in the Summer Food Service Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Programs, both belonging to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.
These programs provide reimbursements for meals distributed to low-income children by food sites, like schools, nonprofits, restaurants, and more. Each food site must have a sponsor organization, in this case Feeding Our Future. The food sites submit reports on how many meals they are serving to the sponsor organization, which then submits the reports to the government for reimbursement.
In Minnesota, the federal reimbursements are wired to the sponsor organizations via the Minnesota Department of Education. The sponsor organization then disburses the money among the food sites.
The 60 defendants, 10 of whom have pleaded guilty, are accused of defrauding these federal programs of $250 million and using the funds on lavish personal expenses.
Minnesota’s GOP congressional delegation — Tom Emmer, Brad Finstad, Pete Stauber, and Michelle Fischbach — wrote to Secretary Vilsack in September 2022, shortly after the first round of federal charges was announced, requesting all USDA documents and communications regarding Feeding Our Future, including documents related to any audit USDA may have conducted of the organization.
The delegation revealed in a Thursday letter that Vilsack took six months to write a response, which was “wholly evasive and ignored our document requests.”
“These allegations and guilty pleas raise many troubling questions about the management of these programs by the USDA. It is unclear how the USDA and its partnering state agency, the Minnesota Department of Education, failed to discern this fraud — described as the ‘largest pandemic fraud in the United States’ — earlier in the grant cycle. Millions of taxpayer funds were stolen at the expense of hungry children in the state,” they write.
Emmer commented that Vilsack’s “woefully inadequate” response makes it clear that “the USDA is uninterested in addressing this fraud.”
“The buck stops here: Minnesotans want answers about how their tax dollars were allowed to be stolen at the expense of kids and families. It’s time for this issue to be addressed with the seriousness it deserves,” he said.
A USDA spokesperson told Alpha News the department has received the letter and will “respond accordingly.” The USDA does not comment on specific cases with ongoing litigation but provided a general statement.
“USDA has a longstanding commitment to ensuring accountability for those operating these critical programs, and there are measures in place at both the state and federal levels to safeguard against fraud and misuse of program funds,” the spokesperson said. “USDA is committed to ensuring child nutrition programs provide access to meals for children in need while maintaining program integrity. USDA takes any allegation of abuse of these programs seriously and supports the Department of Justice in its efforts to address wrongdoing.”
According to the USDA, the agency and its state partners regularly conduct oversight of local program operators.