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Minnesota child care fraud debate starts then fizzles at the Capitol

Minnesota Capitol. Forum News Service

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota lawmakers started a conversation about combatting fraud in the state's child care assistance program then abruptly set it aside.

The House Government Operations Committee on Tuesday, March 26, took up a bill that would call on the Department of Human Services to develop software that tracks the number of children a child care provider can care for and blocks attempts to overbill.

The bill's author, Rep. Laurie Pryor, DFL-Minnetonka, said she brought the proposal to help improve communication between child care centers and the Department of Human Services. The bill would also set up a work group to study child care licensing frameworks in the state with an eye toward requirements seen as overly burdensome by providers.

GOP lawmakers on the panel raised questions about the bill and said it was hastily crafted. And they said a 2020 deadline to put in place technology to track attendance and overbilling was unrealistic.

“To say that this is aggressive from a timeline perspective is ridiculous,” Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said. “Mr. Chair, this is a bad bill.”

Committee Chair Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, then opted to lay over the bill, postponing conversation for now.

The hearing took place a day after Republican lawmakers put out a broad set of proposals aimed at preventing fraud in the program and said Democrats weren't taking the issue seriously.

The nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor this month released a report that showed some level of fraud exists in the program aimed at helping low-income people afford childcare, but they couldn't substantiate a claim that that fraud came out to $100 million.

Lawmakers commissioned the report after a KMSP-TV/Fox 9 investigation found that fraud in the state's Child Care Assistance Program possibly to the tune of $100 million. The station also said some of the money was sent to terrorist groups. Auditors also couldn't substantiate that claim.

The debate about changes to CCAP and accountability efforts are set to continue at the Capitol as other panels take up dozens of other proposals aimed at preventing, detecting and investigating fraud in the program.