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OSDE uncovers $1.6 million in fraud at child-feeding sites amid pandemic

Bagged lunches being served to students while school is out. (KOKH)
Bagged lunches being served to students while school is out. (KOKH)
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The Oklahoma State Department of Education says it's uncovered more than $1.6 million of fraud at child-feeding sites across the state.

During the pandemic, schools, community organizations, and nonprofits have helped provide free meals to children.

OSDE found the $1.6 million in federal funds were improperly claimed for reimbursement since April 2020, most of which were reported at childcare sites.

The Department of Education's Office of Child Nutrition Services discovered the fraudulent activity when reviewing accountability measures, including an unannounced review process done in 2016 under State Superintendent 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 financially supports multiple feeding programs for children, extended additional flexibilities to program providers over the past year. The relaxed rules let sites offer to-go meals to children.

Program sites served over 13 million meals to children between May and August 2020.

OSDE oversees the child-feeding sites administering the USDA programs, including public schools, day cares, juvenile centers, after-school programs, and stand-alone summer feeding programs.

During Hofmeister's tenure, the following feeding site regulations and accountability measures were introduced:

  • VCA checklist – OSDE requires that all applicants be Financially Viable and have Administrative Capability and Program Accountability. 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.

OSDE has not specified which sites in the state were committing the fraudulent activity.

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