The Latest: Democratic leaders react to child care fraud
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Latest on a legislative audit of alleged child care fraud in Minnesota (all times local):
Democratic leaders say they’ll work with Gov. Tim Walz to ensure the integrity of Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program following an auditor’s report that found fraud is a problem with the program but no proof that money from it found its way to terrorists.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman says the program is critically important for families struggling with high child care costs, and the state must make sure assistance gets to those who truly need it.
Legislative Auditor James Nobles was asked to investigate after TV reports suggested that fraudulently obtained money went to the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabab.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler says any misuse of public funds is serious, but that “using unsubstantiated allegations as an excuse for Islamophobic attacks on an entire community is reprehensible.”
Some Minnesota Republican lawmakers are calling for the resignation of the inspector general at the state Department of Human Services in the wake of a legislative auditor’s report on fraud within the state’s Child Care Assistance Program.
Sen. Mark Koran, of North Branch, says the report documented a poor working relationship between Inspector General Carolyn Ham and the department’s child care fraud investigators.
Koran, who’s vice chairman of the bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission, said at a news conference Wednesday that if Ham won’t resign voluntarily, Gov. Tim Walz should fire her.
Rep. Nick Zerwas, of Elk River, says the auditor’s report confirms that the department lacks the basic internal controls necessary to crack down on fraud in the program, even though investigators within the department have repeatedly sounded the alarm.
Ham did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The top Republican in the Minnesota Senate says a legislative auditor’s report confirms “widespread and rampant fraud” in the state’s Child Care Assistance Program.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka says this affects not just taxpayers, but families that need assistance.
Legislative Auditor James Nobles said in a report Wednesday that his investigators found no credible evidence to support allegations that the fraud exceeds $100 million annually or that funds defrauded from the program are going oversees to support terrorist activities. He said investigators couldn’t establish how big a problem the fraud is, but they believe it’s more than the $5 million to $6 million that prosecutors have been able to prove.
Gazelka says Minnesotans are generous people, but they expect government to be accountable to them.
Minnesota’s commissioner of human services has pledged to root out fraud from the state’s Child Care Assistance Program.
Tony Lourey notes that Legislative Auditor James Nobles found no credible evidence to support allegations that the fraud exceeds $100 million annually or that funds defrauded from the program are going oversees to support terrorist activities. But he says any misuse of taxpayer dollars will not be tolerated.
Lourey says his agency has a great deal of work ahead to better prevent, detect and investigate fraud. He also says his agency will establish a stakeholders group to advise on how to improve the integrity of the child care program while ensuring equitable access for all families served by it.
The commissioner says Gov. Tim Walz’s budget includes money for improvements.
The top Republican in the Minnesota House says a legislative auditor’s report shows that fraud is pervasive within the state’s Child Care Assistance Program.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt says it’s clear that state agencies have not been aggressive enough in putting a stop to the fraud. He calls that “outrageous” and says new leadership is needed across state agencies that will make fighting fraud their top priority.
The Child Care Assistance Program, administered by the Department of Human Services, helps low-income families pay for child care.
Legislative Auditor James Noble released the report Wednesday. It says fraud in the program is a recognized problem, but investigators couldn’t establish how big. His investigators believe it’s more than the $5 million to $6 million that prosecutors have been able to prove.
Minnesota’s legislative auditor says he can’t substantiate allegations that money defrauded from a state child care program found its way to terror organizations overseas.
Lawmakers asked for the report following TV reports last year alleging that fraud in the Minnesota Child Care Assistance Program ran as high as $100 million annually. The KMSP-TV reports, partly citing unidentified sources, also said state and federal agents had tracked some of the money overseas and that they believed some of the cash was likely being skimmed by terrorist groups.
The report released Wednesday says investigators didn’t find evidence to substantiate a connection between fraud money and support for a terrorist organization.
It says fraud in the child care program is a recognized problem, but it couldn’t establish a reliable estimate of how big.
Minnesota’s legislative auditor is about to release a report on fraud in a state child care program that was undertaken after allegations that some of the money may have found its way to terror organizations overseas.
Lawmakers asked for the report following TV reports last year alleging that fraud in the Minnesota Child Care Assistance Program ran as high as $100 million annually.
The KMSP-TV reports, partly citing unidentified sources, said state and federal agents had tracked some of the money overseas, and that they believed some of the cash was likely being skimmed by terrorist groups.
The reports also noted several day-care centers under investigation were owned by Somali-Americans, provoking anger from some Somali leaders that the community was being unfairly vilified.