Three Ways States Screwed Up On The Stimulus Food Assistance Program

A new audit shows states made errors in the stimulus food assistance program.

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Whispers has the June audit of the Emergency Food Assistance Program, and it's not pretty.

The program, which used stimulus funds to provide states with food for Americans in need, is revealed to have wasted food, inaccurately reported jobs created, and operated with a conflict of interest, according to the audit.

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The Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees the program, was supposed to ensure that food went from states to food banks to smaller recipients, such as a food pantries, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens. Yet in several instances, the food didn't get to the final location.

"[We] do not have a reasonable assurance," the audit writes, "[that] recipient agencies are operating the program effectively and preventing waste, fraud, and abuse."

And in eight out of nine states, the audit reports, $9.2 million out of $178 million in stimulus funds that went to the program weren't properly managed.

Other errors include:

1) Conflict of interest

In one state, an organization with ties to a food bank was designated to review the performance of one of that food bank's recipients.

2) Wasted food

Five of nine states didn't ensure that food wasn't damaged, spoiled, or lost. In one state's warehouse, the audit found $21,000 in food spoilage, a full 10 percent of the total warehouse inventory.

3) Inaccurate reporting

Three of nine states inaccurately reported the number of jobs created in the program. One state said 37 jobs were created when it was actually 18, a problematic estimate when the jobs' salaries were paid for or reimbursed by stimulus funding.

The audit, performed by the inspector general at the Department of Agriculture was first obtained by the Washington Guardian.

A request for comment from the Food and Nutrition Service was not immediately returned.

But a number of detailed FNS responses at the end of the audit suggest the agency will more closely oversee the states by September of this year. To respond to the problem of wasted food, FNS wrote that it would "urge State agencies to use the guidance that FNS publishes ... to assess their inventories and determine if/when they have an excess supply of food."

Update, July 3, 5:12 p.m.:

The USDA  told Whispers it is “ taking steps to address the findings” of the audit, and is “committed to meeting the highest standards of accountability when it comes to protecting taxpayer dollars and… [in] programs designed to help struggling families put food on the table.”

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.