Political fallout from failed oversight of Feeding Our Future

The political fallout from the legislative auditor’s Feeding Our Future investigation was almost immediate.

Within an hour of the audit’s release, Republicans demanded heads should roll in the Walz administration.

This election season, it’ll almost definitely be part of their narrative that the DFL trifecta has not been careful with taxpayers’ money.

The massive fraud should’ve been stopped a lot sooner, according to legislative auditors.

They say the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) took some action to cut off Feeding Our Future, but skipped some simple steps, like site visits, and failed in basic enforcement.

Republicans say leadership should be held accountable.

"How many MDE personnel received disciplinary action for incompetency?" asked Rep. Duane Quam, (R-Byron) during the Legislative Audit Commission meeting Thursday.

"You can't just let $250 million go out fraudulently and expect no consequences to happen," said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson/(R-East Grand Forks), in a press conference earlier in the day. "Commissioners usually lose jobs over this."

Education Commissioner Willie Jett wasn’t with the department during the scheme. 

Two commissioners left since it started, but on good terms.

So Republicans point back to the governor for whom they worked.

"This fraud scheme was an appalling abuse of a COVID-era program intended to feed children," the governor’s office said in a statement. "But those involved have not escaped accountability – dozens have been charged, and several are now behind bars. The suggestions made by the legislative auditor are good ones, and in most cases the state has already taken the proposed actions. The state has taken strong steps to find and eliminate any remaining vulnerabilities in government programs and will continue to constantly evaluate ways to improve."

Hamline University political science professor David Schultz says the failures will be a theme in state House elections as well.

"This is a picture of what? ‘Corrupt Democrats who are not watching the taxpayers’ money very carefully’," he said. "And that probably resonates with some voters."

Especially combined with reports on fraud in the Frontline Worker payments, although Schultz says voters may be oversaturated on audit reports.

He says this report may have been a bigger election factor if it came out in October.

"We're looking at what now?" Schultz said. "School’s just ended. People are off on summer break. A lot of people are disengaged until the state fair regarding state politics."

The politics extend to Washington, D.C. Congress where the Minnesota GOP congressional delegation is asking MDE for more information about what they’re calling the biggest COVID-19 fraud scheme in the country.