Auditor: Department not following guidelines for federal program

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - There are thousands of less fortunate families around Louisiana who depend on food banks to put meals on the table.

A federal program called Emergency Food Distribution ensures food banks have items to give to those in need. However, a recent audit by the legislative auditor shows the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, which oversees the program in the state, isn't following all of the rules.

Five food banks operate the food distribution program. One of them is the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. It distributes more than nine million pounds of food annually.

That food goes to places like shelters and rehabilitation centers, but the majority of the food goes to the Emergency Food Distribution program. It helps supplement diets of low-income people, providing them with emergency food assistance at no cost. The program comes with price tag of about $10 million.

"The concern here is to make sure all controls are in place, to ensure public money is being spent properly," said Ernie Summerville, Jr., a financial auditor.

Summerville said money is not the problem, but paperwork is.

"Problems with their sub recipient monitoring, it's the responsibility of the department to get audit reports for each sub recipient, which they did, but they failed to review those reports," Summerville added.

Each of the five locations is audited, but what the legislative auditor found is that instead of reviewing those reports, the LDAF never looked at them.

"Not performing that step increases the risk that money may be misspent," Summerville explained.

He stressed the department needs to look at those reports because if something did happen, it would be responsible. One example is if too much food was being given out or money was not accounted for.

"People always say, 'Well, nothing happened.' You're lucky it didn't happen," Summerville said.

In response to the audit, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture and Forestry said the audits from each food bank will now be checked to make sure the federal food program is running correctly. The legislative auditor said the department also needs to keep a hard copy of those reports at its office.

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