Catch of the Week: Florida Department of Children and Families Pays $17.5 Million to Resolve Alleged SNAP Fraud
The Florida Department of Children and Families (FDCF) has agreed to pay $17,500,000 to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act in its administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The SNAP program provides eligible low-income individuals and families with financial assistance to buy nutritious food. Since 2010, SNAP has served on average more than 45 million Americans per month.
The federal government provides funding for SNAP benefits and the states determine applicant eligibility, administer the benefits, and ensure appropriate quality controls are in place. USDA requires that quality controls be free from bias and accurately report error rates in awarding benefits.
The USDA reimburses states for a portion of their expenses in administering SNAP. It also pays performance bonuses to states that report the lowest and the most improved error rates each year and has authority to impose monetary sanctions on states with high error rates.
According to the government, beginning in 2010, FDCF implemented improper policies and practices to reduce its SNAP error rate, including injecting bias into its quality control process. This resulted in FDCF submitting false quality control data and information to USDA, for which it received unentitled performance bonuses for fiscal years 2011 and 2012.
“SNAP provides important benefits to help families in need,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “This settlement is an example of the department’s commitment to ensuring that taxpayer funds are spent appropriately so that the public can have confidence in the integrity of vital programs like SNAP.”
In addition to its payment of $17.5 million, FDCF has also agreed to forego payment of an additional $14.7 million in unpaid bonuses that USDA awarded for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.
SNAP Fraud is Widespread
The United States has previously settled allegations of improper manipulation of SNAP quality control findings with other state agencies, including Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, Louisiana, Alaska, and Mississippi. The government also settled similar allegations against a private consulting company, Osnes Consulting, and its owner, Julie Osnes, who the government alleged advised and encouraged many of these agencies to engage in such manipulations.
Including the FDCF settlement, the United States has now recovered over $60 million in connection with this investigation of the SNAP program.
Special Agent in Charge Bethanne M. Dinkins of the USDA, Office of Inspector General said “The settlements reached to date send a strong message regarding the government’s commitment to work across agency lines to protect the integrity of SNAP.”
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