17 Northeast Florida DCF workers fired over emergency food stamp applications

An Action News Jax Investigation has uncovered new information about dozens of Florida Department of Children and Families workers accused of fraud.

We first reported in August that 31 DCF workers were being fired, accused of fraudulently applying for emergency food stamp benefits after Hurricane Irma.

Since then, Action News Jax has learned that number has increased to 42, and 17 of those workers were based in Northeast Florida.

That means 40 percent of the fired employees worked in the Jacksonville area.

More than one million people applied for Florida’s Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as DSNAP, after Hurricane Irma.

Samantha Mingle stood in line out in the sun for hours to apply.

“We lost everything and we’re struggling to keep our head above water. And this is going to help my family tremendously,” said Mingle on Oct. 11, 2017.

Now dozens of people who work for the agency in charge of distributing those emergency food stamps are accused of taking advantage of it.

“These 42 individuals do not meet the high standards to which we hold more than 12,000 employees,” said DCF Press Secretary DaMonica Smith in an email to Action News Jax.

About 1,300 DCF workers applied for DSNAP after Hurricane Irma.

Smith said the fired workers intentionally provided false information on their DSNAP applications.

Those were benefits that local Hurricane Irma survivors like Gerald Johnson said they needed to put food on the table.

“I’m on a fixed income. So, I wasn’t able to do a whole lot to replace the food that I lost during Irma,” said Johnson on Oct. 11, 2017.

Anyone found guilty of fraudulently applying for DSNAP benefits could face criminal charges, be disqualified from getting food assistance benefits in the future, and must pay the money back.

“DCF has zero tolerance for anyone who violates public trust in an attempt to defraud tax payers and inappropriately obtain public benefits. DCF’s Public Benefits Integrity (PBI) and Inspector General’s (IG) investigations are open as we continue to recover any money inappropriately obtained and hold those individuals responsible accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

Once the PBI and IG investigations are completed, the department will hand over all investigative findings to the appropriate law enforcement agency for further action,” said Smith in an email on Friday morning.

Smith said DCF is working to get Action News Jax the names of the fired employees accused of fraud.