Kauai Food Bank Troubles Continue

The state Department of Human Services and Attorney General’s Office are continuing their investigation into allegations of financial misconduct surrounding Kaua’i Independent Food Bank (KIFB). The DHS determined it was appropriate to terminate, and not renew, its contract with the Kaua’i Independent Food Bank.

“The department will seek reimbursement … if it is determined that any contractor has improperly billed the DHS,” read an Office of the DHS director statement.

Two investigations of KIFB have concluded that the nonprofit organization wrongfully billed the state and federal governments under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamp aid.

A forensic audit indicates that at least $50,000 – and possibly more – must be repaid.

It’s a very complicated case, first reported by MidWeek last year when the main Hawaii Foodbank cut the Kaua’i organization from its support, citing mismanagement of food for the homeless and other needy persons.

KIFB’s board placed executive director Judy Lenthall on paid administrative leave and has since hired a new leader. It continues in operation through its own donor sources. The statewide Hawaii Foodbank, which is affiliated with the national Feeding America organization of food banks, also maintains a facility on Kaua’i.

Among the allegations that triggered the KIFB probes were distributing to people not eligible for food stamp aid and billing for hours not worked.

But the audit uncovered a problem: Was it all KIFB’s fault, or had the state human services department failed to properly supervise the Kaua’i operation?

The finding: Somebody owes Washington a bundle of money. KIFB already has been nailed by the federal government for $779,000 for misuse of grant money. Now this.

Say goodbye to Act 55 and the Public Lands Development Corporation. At least that’s what I recommend.

It’s a very unpopular measure except with Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a handful of law-makers and a lot of developers who’d love to get their hands on public property and build on it with minimal hassle over various permits and environmental studies.

People from the heavily rural counties of Kaua’i and the Big Island are the most upset about this law, but I sense there’s growing unhappiness on Oahu, too.

Maybe the background idea was good. There is some state land for which we have no immediate or even long-term planned use, and which might be converted to a private venture.

But the law doesn’t provide safeguards, just an appointed panel of deciders.

No, we’re better served if each piece of public land undergoes a thorough public vetting for usage and a full environmental review before being handed over to private investors. There should seldom be shortcuts, if any.