Report finds only 60% of ‘frontline workers’ handed cash by the state government were eligible

Back in 2022, the state Legislature established the “frontline worker pay program.” To be eligible, workers must have worked one or more “frontline” jobs — those requiring in-person attendance, like nurses, janitors, and prison guards — for at least 120 hours in Minnesota between March 15, 2020 and June 30, 2021; not exceed an income cap; and not received any unemployment insurance benefits for more than 20 weeks during the period. Lawmakers set aside $500 million for the program and estimated that about 667,000 state residents would be eligible for payments of roughly $750 each. In fact, nearly 1.2 million people applied for the bonuses of whom 1 million received payments of $487.45.

But a devastating report from the state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) this week finds that of the 1 million Minnesotans who received payouts, only about 60% were technically eligible for them. Nine percent of recipients — 90,000 people — were ineligible, while the eligibility of the remaining 310,000 recipients is unclear, according to the audit.

In 290 cases, the recipients were, in fact, dead. Indeed, “Based on our initial data analysis, one individual was deceased for more than two years prior to the application submission date,” the audit reports.

How did this happen?

The OLA says that members of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) didn’t comply with program requirements, and the Department of Revenue (DOR) didn’t verify the adjusted gross income for all applicants. In addition, the Minnesota Information Technology Services, which partnered with the DLI, didn’t comply with the state’s Official Records Act.

Lawmakers bear some of the blame, too. The auditor’s office says the Legislature — with strong bipartisan support – moved too quickly to implement the program, and noted that it relied too heavily on self-identification from applicants: “The Legislature should consider the amount of risk the state is willing to accept when establishing programs quickly and with eligibility conditions that rely on self-attestation,” the auditors wrote.

The auditors recommend that payments made to ineligible persons — as well as those who used someone else’s identity — be recovered, which is probably going to be easier said than done.

Of more concern, perhaps, is how this fiasco exhibits so many of the failures we see again and again from our state government, from the lax or non-existent oversight seen in the Feeding Our Future scandal, to the desperate desire to pass bills as quickly as possible whether the numbers add up or not seen with the Paid Family and Medical Leave debacle. This is Minnesota’s model of governance now. Be appropriately skeptical in the future.