Tomorrow’s fraud today: MN Dems double down on free-food fiasco

It was free-food day in this morning’s meeting of the state House Children and Families committee.

Minnesota Democrats have discovered that free food is extremely popular with the public (72 percent approval) and fraudsters alike.

Among the three bills presented this morning was HF 3855, carried by Rep. Aisha Gomez (DFL-Minneapolis), chairperson of the powerful Taxes committee. The bill would compel Minnesota to join a new “restaurant meals program” within the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Despite the name, the program aims to pay for prepared meals at groceries, delis, and other hybrid food retailers. The House bill does not have a Senate companion.

Gomez informed the committee that nine other states currently participate in the Federal program. Retailers would have to accept EBT cards (electronic-benefit transfer cards) to participate in the program, aimed at disabled and elderly adults. Grandma using her EBT card to buy a rotisserie chicken was the oft-cited example.

The one-page bill does not include any additional fraud protections. It merely requires the state to “ensure that the program meets the requirements of the United States
Department of Agriculture” (USDA).

What could go wrong? Plenty.

We witnessed with Feeding Our Future in the past few years how massive the fraud ($250 million to $500 million) can be around popular “free” food programs and how completely inadequate USDA requirements were in preventing it. A few examples:

Two years ago, I wrote about a St. Cloud grocer sentenced to prison for defrauding the Federal SNAP program of $4 million. Of course, his business was also enrolled in the free-food program through Feeding Our Future.

Eight individuals associated with the now defunct Shakopee grocery Empire Cuisine & Market have been indicted in the Feeding Our Future case. I took this photo of the former establishment back in 2022:

Zoom in and the “we accept EBT” poster is clearly visible. Likewise, two individuals included in the latest batch of Feeding indictees are a married couple who run this south Minneapolis grocery:

“We accept” EBT is clearly visible in the window in this photo I took in summer 2023. The whole Feeding Our Future scandal began when restaurants, groceries, and delis were temporarily admitted to the free-food programs as a short-term Covid-related measure. Evergreen was one of the first groceries admitted under the short-lived exception.

HF 3855 is awaiting a Fiscal (cost) note before moving forward.