OSDE uncovers $1.6M in fraud at child-feeding sites during pandemic
OKLAHOMA CITY – In the wake of schools, community organizations and nonprofits having raced to provide free meals to children during the pandemic, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) uncovered a record amount of fraud at child-feeding sites across the state. Over $1.6 million in federal funds were improperly claimed for reimbursement since April 2020, OSDE officials found. The majority of improper claims were reported at child-care sites.
The agency’s Office of Child Nutrition Services uncovered the fraudulent activity through a number of accountability measures, including an unannounced review process implemented in 2016 under State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.
“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.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which subsidizes a number of feeding programs that allow children to receive nutritious meals at free or reduced prices including the National School Lunch Program, extended additional flexibilities to program providers over the past 12 months. These relaxed rules, in part, allowed sites to offer to-go meals so children would not have to eat in congregated settings.
Participation in OSDE’s Summer Food Service Program soared by over 700% during the pandemic. Program 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 and accountability measures introduced during Hofmeister’s tenure include:
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 high-risk 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.