The Massive Scheme That Stole Food Assistance From Children

According to The Washington Post, 47 people in Minnesota are charged with stealing pandemic relief funds earmarked for hungry children in a theft the U.S. Justice Department called "brazen." Feed Our Future, a nonprofit organization, was supposed to oversee food pick-up sights for the state in an effort to curb any fraudulent activity. Instead, the opposite happened, with the organization's leader Aimee Bock accused of taking kickbacks for bringing in shell companies who submitted fraudulent invoices for feeding children that did not exist.

The defrauded program was the Federal Child Nutrition Program, which is administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to The Washington Post, the federal government gives money to the state to reimburse a network of nonprofits that work to get food to low-income children who are at risk of going hungry. The nonprofits, which receive an administration fee, either work with vendors to provide meals or do so directly.

With schools shuttered during the pandemic, leaving vulnerable kids without the breakfast and lunches provided through the schools, the government changed the laws so the Federal Child Nutrition Program could expand to include more organizations and conceivably get more kids fed. The New York Times says part of the flexibility included allowing for-profit restaurants to participate and allowing families to pick up food from various locations.

Per the Justice Department's press release, the 47 defendants are charged with stealing $250 million in COVID relief funds. The charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery.

Pandemic relief scheme stole food from hungry kids

Prior to the pandemic, Feeding Our Future was a sponsor organization and distributed $3.4 million in federal funds through the Federal Child Nutrition Program in 2019. In 2021, that number ballooned to more than $200 million, with shell companies pocketing the cash by creating fake kids and fake pick-up locations.

Feeding Our Future took an administration fee of $18 million in addition to kickbacks from these fake companies. They used the money to purchase things like luxury vehicles and real estate in both the U.S. and abroad and for international travel (via The United States Department of Justice). According to The New York Times, there are 39,000 open investigations into pandemic relief money fraud; this was the largest uncovered to date.

With almost 12 million children food insecure in the U.S., government programs are needed to ensure kids are fed. During the pandemic, these special programs helped curb food shortages in households with children by 40%, which researchers believe is a direct result of the flexibility allowed (via U.S. News and World Report).

"Exploiting a government program intended to feed children at the time of a national crisis is the epitome of greed," said Justin Campbell, Special Agent in Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation, in a statement. "As alleged, the defendants charged in this case chose to enrich themselves at the expense of children. Instead of feeding the future, they chose to steal from the future."