Legislative efforts to improve the Child Care Assistance Program’s integrity appear to be paying off.
The program, which provides aid for child care to low-income families while parents are working or in school, has been criticized for being prone to fraud and mismanagement. This was amplified following a 2019 report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor that indicated it lacked oversight and that fraud was more pervasive than prosecutors could prove.
To address this, the Legislature passed several anti-fraud measures in 2019, including new record-keeping requirements for providers, expanded use of administrative sanctions, investments to improve data analytics and new requirements around law enforcement collaboration.
The House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee received an update of those measures Tuesday.
“Today, I am very happy to report to you that the CCAP investigations process, case tracking, and quality management practices that have been implemented over the last year are working and they are producing results,” said Kristine Preston, deputy inspector general with the Department of Human Services.
In 2020, program investigators closed 217 cases of potential misconduct. By comparison, in 2018, they closed 20 cases. As a result, they sent out 97 warning letters to providers and assessed 57 overpayments. Those identified overpayments amount to more than $1.4 million, according to Preston.
Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), the committee chair, noted not all overpayments are due to intentional fraud, and instead may result from an administrative error such as leaving a child’s first or last name off an attendance record.
Improved data mining and enhanced analysis capabilities have created consistency in the attendance record review process, documentation, and overpayment calculation, Preston said. As a result, investigators were able to eliminate a backlog of attendance records and are now able to be more proactive in addressing potential misconduct.
Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) asked how the department plans to keep lawmakers better informed of any program issues that might arise going forward.
“We’ll go back to two years ago, we didn’t know about any fraud issues until that explosive report came out, which caused a lot of division in the Legislature and public,” she said. “What is your plan to keep us informed as you see things going on so that we are not all blindsided.”
Inspector General Kulani Moti said the department is committed to having an open line of communication and will provide updates on trends that officials are seeing.
“There are obviously times when we have active and ongoing investigations where we aren’t able to share information,” she said. “But part of our goal is there needs to be a level of transparency.”