Employees of Florida’s welfare agency are under investigation for possible food stamp fraud, according to a report released Monday.
Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) conducted an audit of more than 1,300 of its own employees who applied for Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) benefits in fall 2017 after Hurricane Irma. The agency then turned over an unspecified number of suspicious applications to the state’s Office of the Inspector General for additional review, WJXT reported.
The agency did not disclose how many applications were submitted for additional review because of the ongoing investigation.
When Hurricane Irma hit Florida, food stamp participation soared in the state. Florida’s overall participation in the food stamp program rose by 2.5 million in one month between September 2017 and October 2017, and residents often stood in long lines at 50 sites throughout the state over 45 days to fill out paperwork enabling them to receive the special D-SNAP benefits from the federal government.
The state distributed $1.2 billion in D-SNAP benefits to 7.2 million residents by the end of October 2017.
The agency confirmed that DCF employees called “Economic Self Sufficiency Employees” were tasked with processing D-SNAP applications and prevented $14 million in food stamp fraud at each site.
Sources from inside the agency told WJXT some DCF employees who allegedly lied on their D-SNAP applications to get more than their allotted benefits have lost their jobs.
Those individuals found guilty of putting down false information on their D-SNAP applications could face criminal penalties, and those found guilty of fraud could be ordered to pay back the money, WJXT reported.
Florida has been home to one of the largest food stamp fraud crackdowns in history. The Justice Department charged 12 Floridians for running an alleged $20 million SNAP fraud scheme in October 2017.