By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASEE – When the Florida Department of Children and Families claimed earlier this month to have saved taxpayers $1.7 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps, what they really meant was they stopped subsidizing people who didn’t qualify for the program.
A simple cross-referencing of patients living full-time in seven state mental health facilities found 400 residents who were improperly receiving SNAP or cash assistance.
“Our Public Benefits Integrity staff ran a SNAP check on patients at all DCF licensed mental health facilities,” department spokesman Whitney Ray told Florida Watchdog in an email.
“The patients at DCF licensed mental health facilities receive meals and are therefore ineligible for SNAP benefits,” he said.
Of the 400 inpatient recipients, 82 were victims of identity theft. Another 40 resulted from either family members or caregivers who failed to report the patient no longer lived with them.
“We are searching statewide for people scamming the system,” said DCF interim Secretary Esther Jacobo. “That includes people taking advantage of the patients in our mental health facilities. Fraudsters prey on people in hospitals and people who can’t defend themselves.”
As previously reported by Florida Watchdog’s Marianela Toledo, Florida’s SNAP expenditure exceeded $5 billion last year, a figure that has tripled since 2008, when the budget was $1.8 billion. The number of Floridians seeking assistance also increased. Last year, nearly 3.5 million people were enrolled in the program.
“National studies rate fraud in the SNAP system at somewhere between ( 3 and 5 percent) percent nationwide,” said Ray.
Florida’s error rate, measuring overpayment and underpayment as opposed to fraud, was the lowest in the nation last year at .77 percent.
DCF has no authority to bring criminal charges or make arrests, but the agency does contact law authorities when the agency suspects fraud.
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