Food for Florida sites on lookout for fraud

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – We’ve seen it around the Tampa Bay area, long lines and people waiting for hours to get help after Hurricane Irma.

Unfortunately, some people are taking advantage of the opportunity.

“You’re just taking it away from somebody who needs it,” said Mark Lewis, who stood in line to get approval.  “It took me three days to round up a generator from my friends. All of my food was gone by then.”

Lewis lives on a fixed income and said every little bit helps.

“It means a lot. Everybody needs help, especially the lower income people like me. I’m on disability. It takes every penny I have to make it through the month,” he said.

Thousands have poured into the Food for Florida sites hoping to get temporary food stamps.

Not everyone is in line for the right reasons.

DCF has a team dedicated to looking for fraud, including people who lie on their applications.

“People in question are referred to our Public Benefits Integrity group to do further investigation,” Regional Managing Director William D’Aiuto told News Channel 8.

News Channel 8 also asked what happens to people who try to sell their benefits, after a post turned up on Facebook of a person trying to sell their food stamps.

“Anytime that we find and are aware of individuals that are breaking the law, we forward that to law enforcement and work with them to ensure that they are prosecuted,” D’Aiuto said.

Those busted for fraud face a third degree felony for taking away from those who truly need it.

“You take away from people and your blessings go away too,” Moura Rivera said.

According to Press Secretary David Frady:

“The Office of Public Benefits Integrity (PBI) is responsible for investigating cases of suspected public assistance fraud.  These investigative staff are located at the various Food for Florida (FFF) sites throughout the state.  If they cannot substantiate attempted fraud at the site, they can flag it for further investigation at a later time.  Individuals who are found guilty of submitting false information on their application for D-SNAP benefits are subject to criminal prosecution. They also can be administratively disqualified from receiving food assistance benefits for a period of time (e.g., 12-months, 24-months, or lifetime) depending on the number of times the person has intentionally defrauded the program. If a person is already receiving benefits in another state and applies for and receives D-SNAP benefits in Florida through fraudulent means, they can be disqualified from receiving SNAP for 10 years.

DCF is also conducting fraud prevention on-site to reduce public assistance fraud. The Food for Florida system identifies applications that meet certain fraud-prone profiles and flags them for review by DCF’s Public Benefits Integrity (PBI) program. PBI has staff on-site at each FFF location to interview potentially fraudulent applicants and conduct ‘pre-investigations’ to check the information provided on applications flagged as fraud prone. The FFF system also identifies applications that have mismatching information but do not meet the fraud-prone profiles.  These applicants are handled by the regular eligibility workers who attempt to resolve the error.”

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