Millions of dollars in food stamp fraud have been discovered in southwest Florida, according to an investigation by WBBH.
The Division of Public Assistance Fraud under Florida’s Department of Children and Families discovered $20,719,036 in fraud in FY 2015-16, WBBH reported.
Division of Public Assistance Director Jack Heacock said the most common type of fraud the agency sees is when people falsify their household information when applying for or renewing SNAP benefits.
“False reporting, when they apply for benefits they don’t tell the whole truth,” Heacock said.
Those who try to game the system by falsely applying for benefits are not the only ones responsible for defrauding the government.
Retailers in southwest Florida are also responsible for defrauding the government by trading cash for food stamps.
According to the investigation from WBBH, 16 stores in southwest Florida have been permanently or temporarily disqualified from the SNAP program over the past two years because of this cash for food stamps scheme.
It is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to investigate and disqualify local stores, but it is often employees from the Department of Children and Families that pick up on fraud before it is reported to the USDA for them to investigate.
Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll said the agency has been able to prevent $32 million worth of fraud from happening in 2016 alone by denying Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program applications.
But Carroll says the agency could use more of the USDA’s help to track down criminals.
“For every pattern we pick up, we probably miss 10,” Carroll said.
Southwest Florida is not the only place where stores have been cited for food stamp fraud. In Chicago, 140 stores in the city were charged with food stamp fraud in 2016.