From the beginning, the official narrative coming from Gov. Tim Walz’s administration has been that it did everything it could to stop Feeding Our Future and its associates from allegedly defrauding the government of $250 million.
Their hands were tied because a judge had ordered them to resume payments to the organization now accused of stealing money earmarked for feeding hungry children and using it to buy luxury items.
“When MDE stopped payments, Feeding our Future hit back with accusations of racism and a sham lawsuit. Because of Feeding our Future’s misrepresentations in that lawsuit, a court instructed the payments to continue,” the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) said this week after 48 people were charged for allegedly defrauding federal meals programs that MDE administers at the state level.
Gov. Tim Walz repeated these claims during a press conference Thursday, going so far as to suggest that the judge who ordered the payments to continue should be investigated.
“I would hope there would be an investigation into that,” Walz told the media, saying he was “speechless” and found it “unbelievable that this ruling would come down.”
In an exceedingly rare move, the Minnesota Judicial Branch issued a statement on behalf of that judge, John H. Guthmann, late Friday afternoon, debunking the Walz administration’s narrative.
“As the public court record and Judge Guthmann’s orders make plain, Judge Guthmann never issued an order requiring the MN Department of Education to resume food reimbursement payments to FOF. The Department of Education voluntarily resumed payments and informed the court that FOF resolved the ‘serious deficiencies’ that prompted it to suspend payments temporarily. All of the MN Department of Education food reimbursement payments to FOF were made voluntarily, without any court order,” the statement said.
Back to the beginning
Feeding Our Future sued MDE in November 2020 on the grounds that it, among other things, was engaging in racial discrimination and violating Feeding Our Future’s due process rights by refusing to process its applications for new meal sites.
“Thousands of qualified children in low-income and minority communities are going without desperately needed federal food programs because MDE refuses to process Feeding Our Future’s applications,” the lawsuit said.
About a month later, Feeding Our Future and MDE entered into an agreement, called a “stipulation,” whereby the state agency was required to accept or reject “applications that are correct and complete in a reasonably prompt manner.”
“Before the court could rule, the parties reached an agreement in which the Department of Education agreed to handle these federally regulated site applications ‘reasonably promptly.’ A consent order approving the settlement was issued on December 22, 2020,” the judicial branch explained in its statement.
Then in March 2021, MDE stopped payments to Feeding Our Future based on “serious deficiencies” it detected.
In response, Feeding Our Future filed multiple motions for a restraining order and asked the court to find MDE in contempt. Some of these motions dealt with MDE’s refusal to issue payments; others dealt with MDE’s refusal to accept or reject applications for meal sites.
On June 24, Judge Guthmann rejected Feeding Our Future’s motion for a restraining order. This is because MDE had already voluntarily resumed payments to Feeding Our Future, according to Guthmann.
“[The] Department of Education voluntarily resumed making payments to FOF. The Department of Education was not ordered by the court to do so. After the Department resumed voluntary payments, counsel for the Department of Education wrote the court asking that FOF’s motion for sanctions based on non-payment be denied as moot because the Department voluntarily resumed payments,” the judicial branch said in its statement.
Guthmann, however, granted Feeding Our Future’s motion to find MDE in contempt of court because the department took too long to accept or reject new applications.
“As stated during the June 23, 2021 hearing, MDE’s conduct violated the Court’s December 22, 2020 Order (filed on December 23, 2020), which required the MDE to be ‘reasonably prompt’ in its response to plaintiff’s CACFP program applications,” Guthmann said in his ruling.
MDE was not required to accept all of Feeding Our Future’s applications but only to respond to them in a reasonable time frame and provide technical assistance if needed.
“Here, the court finds the MDE in constructive civil contempt for violating a court order, the entry of which it negotiated and stipulated to,” Guthmann added.
In short, MDE was never ordered to resume payments to Feeding Our Future and was only found in contempt of court because it violated a settlement it had willingly entered into.
The Walz administration responded to the judicial branch statement in a statement of its own later Friday.
“Feeding Our Future demanded that MDE make payments, and the court made it clear that if MDE were to continue the legal fight to withhold payments, MDE would incur sanctions and legal penalties,” the statement said. “The court held MDE in contempt for not processing Feeding Our Future applications.”