More than 30 employees of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) have been fired after an audit found workers within the governmental agency submitted fraudulent applications in order to obtain food stamp benefits from the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) following last year’s hurricane Irma.
Tarik Minor from News 4 Jax broke the story this week
After Hurricane Irma left many Floridians without food and power, thousands of impacted residentsof the Sunshine State lined up at disaster relief centers for D-SNAP benefits. Benefits were given out by the federal government based on the needs of the individual or families who had to show they suffered loss of income or incurred disaster expenses from Irma. Those eligible would receive government assistance for two months with a maximum allotment, based on eligibility, of around $1,100.
Thousands waited in long lines to fill out the needed forms to collect the benefits. Last October, 7.2 million Floridians received $1.2 billion from the D-SNAP program. “Food for Florida” was the largest D-SNAP activation in United States history with 50 sites all around the Sunshine State. DCF oversaw the processing of applications in the state,
Minor’s investigation found that some DCF employees received preferential treatment over other hurricane victims who were waiting. According to Minor, DCF employees were escorted to the front of the line ahead of others who were waiting. Some of those same DCF employees were given specific instructions to make it easier for them to receive the disaster benefits which come in the form of EBT cards.
Two lawyers who have been following the investigation said this could just be the beginning of more dominoes to fall.
Attorney Richard Kuritz asked who else knew about the abuse. “If it starts going up the ladder, and we start figuring out there’s people that are in supervisory positions that knew this, figure out that people in supervisor positions were involved that knew this, condoned this, or maybe even profited from it, that’s the time we go fed, to federal court for prosecution,” said Kurtiz.
Attorney Gene Nichols said disaster fraud is rampant. “EBT cards have been sold in the past on the black market and we have seen people put them on the internet and get them prosecuted for wire fraud,” he said.
The 31 former DCF employees who were fired for their transgressions face state charges and could also face federal charges.
Gov. Rick Scott’s office says they expects DCF to fully investigate any waste or fraud and hold people accountable.
Contact Ed at Ed.Dean@FloridaDaily.com.