On May 7th, nearly 500 people went to the local Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) office to apply for replacement SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) benefits as a result of April 27th's severe weather and power outages.
To be eligible for replacement benefits, existing SNAP recipients were required to be without power for at least 24 hours, verified by their power provider. In Iberia Parish, according to the Louisiana Public Service Commission, only 91 customers were without power for at least 24 hours.
"Having three times the number of applicants than could have possibly been eligible, sent up red flags for us," said DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier. "We have great concern that nearly 500 people were willing to swear under oath that they lost power for more than 24 hours while the information from the Louisiana Public Service Commission clearly reflects something different."
In response to the suspected fraud, DCFS has launched an investigation. Working in partnership with State Inspector General, Stephen Street and local law enforcement, DCFS will investigate each claim for replacement benefits.
Any applicant found to have intentionally committed fraud will be sanctioned accordingly. First time offenders will lose their benefits for one year, second time offenders face a 2-year suspension and third time offenders will lose their benefits permanently.
Though recent events did not qualify for Disaster SNAP, requests for replacement benefits were accepted across the state. All applications will be verified with local power providers and those who qualify can expect to receive their replacement benefits within 10 days of signing their affidavit.