$1.6 million in fraud at child-feeding sites during pandemic

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – The Oklahoma State Department of Education uncovers a record amount of fraud at child-feeding sites. Officials say it happened while schools, community organizations and nonprofits were racing to provide free meals during the pandemic.

Organizations improperly claimed more than $1.6 million in federal fund reimbursements since April 2020. OSDE officials say the majority of improper claims were at child-care sites.

The agency’s Office of Child Nutrition Services uncovered the fraudulent activity through a number of accountability measures. 

“We are incredibly grateful for our schools and community partners that stepped up to ensure the nutritional needs of children were met over the last year, as hundreds of schools provided summer meals for the first time. Oklahoma families rely on these services, and we are committed to ensuring integrity for these programs that fuel young learners,” Hofmeister said. “Oklahoma will continue to leverage federal dollars to help our children gain supports to be healthy and successful, and it is our charge to safeguard that valuable investment by taxpayers.” 

Fraud and Extended Flexibilities

The U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes a number of feeding programs to help kids get nutritious meals for free or reduced prices. One program is the National School Lunch Program. The USDA extended additional flexibilities for those programs over the past 12 months due to the pandemic. The OSDE says these relaxed rules helped sites sites to offer to-go meals.

Participation in OSDE’s Summer Food Service Program soared by over 700% during the pandemicProgram sites served over 13 million meals to children from May to August in 2020, surpassing the 1.6 million meals from the same period in 2019. 

OSDE provides oversight of the child-feeding sites administering the USDA programs. Those sites include public schools, day cares, juvenile centers, after-school programs and stand-alone summer feeding programs. 

Feeding Site Regulations / Accountability Measures

  • VCA checklist – OSDE requires that all applicants be Financially Viable and have Administrative Capability and Program Accountability (VCA). Applicants must submit financial information and demonstrate capacity for policies and procedures to operate programs according to regulations. 
  • Validations for highrisk claims – Through a rubric to determine high-risk claims, OSDE requires entities to submit records to verify irregular claims. This is required in addition to the review process, typically in a non-review year. 
  • Site approvals – Any entity must receive OSDE approval to add a feeding site to its program to ensure capacity and viability. 
  • Site agreements – If a sponsor contracts with a site to serve meals, OSDE requires a written site agreement to avert procedural difficulties. 
  • Training – OSDE requires entities to attend trainings if they receive a review deemed seriously deficient. For Fiscal Year 2022, all entities reapplying for OSDE programs must attend a training prior to approval. 
  • Frequent reviews for high-risk claims – OSDE reviews entities more often if previous review results are irregular. Entities deemed seriously deficient are reviewed again in the next fiscal year to ensure all areas are fully and permanently corrected. 
  • Identity checks – OSDE requires additional documentation to confirm identity of applicants or authorized representatives of program entities.