Bettie Robinson is the mother of Shelly Robinson. The women are partners who run a child care home in Council Bluffs, Iowa. They are participants in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) administered in Iowa by the United States Department of Agriculture through the Iowa Department of Education's Bureau of Food and Nutrition. The CACFP is a federal program that provides reimbursement for meals and snacks provided to children (and adults, though such is not the case here) in childcare homes and centers. Childcare homes must be supervised by a sponsoring organization. The sponsor in this case is the Appellee, West Central Development Corporation ["West Central"]. At issue is whether the Robinsons unlawfully submitted claims for reimbursement for meals and snacks they did not serve. West Central submitted documentation regarding claims made regarding eight children. It is necessary for purposes of this hearing that we discuss claims regarding just two of the children, Tyler A. and Hannah A. (non-siblings).
Specifically, the reimbursement claim for Tyler A. shows that he was served an afternoon snack on August 25, 26, 27, 30, and 31. The parties agree that Tyler A. was in public school half-day kindergarten on those dates, and was not served any of the claimed snacks. Hannah A. is a child in all-day kindergarten. The Robinsons' paperwork showed that Hannah A. was in their care all day for the 11-week days from September 16 to September 30, and that lunch was served to her on those days. Again, the parties agree that this was false. Hannah was present the entire day, and was not served lunch on any of those days.On or about October 28, 2004, West Central notified both Appellants of its intention to terminate their CACFP participation for claiming meals not served to participating children. The Robinsons appealed. Ms. Robinson admitted that she submitted false claims as to Tyler A. and Hannah A. However, she raised three arguments for consideration: (1) that she had no intent to defraud the government; (2) that West Central did not offer corrective action to the home; and (3)that she did not operate the child care home (for which meals/snacks were served), but just the preschool. Shelly Robinson argues that she merely made a mistake in claiming that snacks were served to Tyler A. and lunch to Hannah A. at times and dates when they were not in the childcare home. She cites her inexperience in doing the required paperwork, inasmuch as she inherited the task from someone else. The CACFP regulations do not make "intent" a required element in order for false claims to be grounds for termination from the program. We note, however, that Ms. Robinson's conduct goes beyond an excusable mistake. While she may have been new to completing the records, she has been a licensee of DHS and a participant of CACFP for at least one full year. As one who meets the definition of a "principal" as defined in the federal CACFP regulations (7 C.F.R. 226.2), she is deemed to know the requirements imposed by the CACF program.
In addition, the reimbursement claims forms are not complicated or confusing. They are very straightforward. The record keeper records the date, the name and age of each child present, and checks off (in provided boxes) which meals and snacks were served to the child on that date. Accordingly, repeating the same "mistake" 11 times over in the case of Hannah A. bespeaks gross carelessness at best and a callous disregard for the public's money at worst. Technically, Ms. Robinson is correct that West Central should have provided her mother and her with a time period for "corrective action." However, corrective action does not include an opportunity to go back and correct false information.
Accordingly, while it would have been better if ? prior to sending out its notice of Notice of Intent to Terminate for Cause ? West Central had given the Robinsons no more than one week to demonstrate that the submitted claims were not false or that West Central had erred, Ms. Robinson admitted that the claims were false. Corrective action does not include allowing a childcare provider to correct false claims. Therefore, West Central's failure was a harmless error in this case.
In the future, all sponsors are directed to give providers an opportunity for corrective action. The only exception to this is when the deficiency relates to an imminent threat to the health or safety to children. Regarding a deficiency for submission of a false claim, the provider must be given a limited amount of time (no more than one week) in which to show that the sponsor made and error or that the claim was not, in fact, false. Citing error and promising not to err again does not constitute corrective action.
That the decision of the West Central Development Corporation was affirmed.