Golden Turkey Nominee: Feeding Our Fraudsters

As the pandemic threw the country into a state of uncertainty, politicians in Washington, D.C. did the only thing they know how to do: throw money at the problem. They passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in March 2020, sending billions to the states to feed presumedly hungry children who found themselves locked out of America’s schools. The plan was to use the current federal Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to distribute meals through feeding sites across the state.

We’re not sure if turkey was on the menu, but the Summer Food Service Program managed by the Minnesota Department of Education is hereby nominated for a Golden Turkey.

In the beginning, most of the food sites were schools and childcare centers already enrolled in the program. But thanks to COVID, more sites than normal were needed to distribute meals to needy children. The Minnesota Department of Education was the agency in charge of distributing the money to schools and non-profits, who would in turn fund the meal distribution sites.

As we now know, all the pieces were in place for bad actors to swoop in and take advantage of a crisis:

  • Big money flowing from Washington to Minnesota to respond to COVID
  • Bureaucrats at the Minnesota Department of Education blindly approving contracts from their work-from-home bunkers
  • Non-profits springing up overnight to act as intermediaries between the state agency and food distribution sites

And everyone knows what happened next.

Fraudsters at non-profits like Feeding Our Future and Partners In Nutrition used computer programs to literally generate fake children’s names and enroll them in the free meal program. Sites were allegedly run out of small offices claiming to feed thousands of meals a day (which apparently aroused no suspicion?), MDE bureaucrats ignored their duty to oversee the program and failed to make routine site visits (which would have exposed the fraud immediately), and hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen before the FBI finally stepped in and shut it down in January 2022.

But don’t worry, the fraudsters still had time to buy luxury cars, boats, houses and trips. And in all seriousness, much of the stolen money left the country and will never be recovered.  

For negligence and lax oversight, the Summer Food Service Program managed by the Minnesota Department of Education is hereby nominated for a Golden Turkey award. They allowed hundreds of millions of dollars to be stolen, making us the real turkeys.

Should the Minnesota Department of Education win this year’s Golden Turkey Award? Don’t forget to cast your vote!