The Florida Department of Children and Families (FDCF) has agreed to pay the United States $17,500,000 to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act in its administration of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Department of Justice announced today. Until 2008, SNAP was known as the Food Stamp Program.
Under SNAP, USDA 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, and provided more than $71 billion annually.
“SNAP provides important benefits to help families in need,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Department of Justice’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.”
Although the federal government funds SNAP benefits, it relies on the states to determine whether applicants are eligible for benefits, to administer those benefits, and to perform quality control to ensure that eligibility decisions are accurate. The USDA requires that the states’ quality control processes ensure that benefits are correctly awarded, are free from bias, and accurately report states’ error rates in making eligibility decisions.
The USDA reimburses states for a portion of their administrative expenses in administering SNAP, including expenses for providing quality control. It also pays performance bonuses to states that report the lowest and the most improved error rates each year, and can impose monetary sanctions on states with high error rates that do not show improvement.
The settlement resolves allegations that beginning in 2010, FDCF implemented policies and practices to reduce its SNAP error rate by submitting false information to USDA. Specifically, the United States alleged FDCF injected bias into its quality control process that 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. 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 USDA awarded for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.
Joseph H. Harrington, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington said, “While it is shocking these claims where submitted by the Florida Department of Children and Families, the state agency entrusted with assisting vulnerable and needy individuals, I commend the agency for correcting its conduct, cooperating with our investigation, and resolving its liability for its past actions. Together with our partners in the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the USDA, we will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who misuse and wrongfully obtain SNAP funding.”
This is the eighth settlement in this matter, and the seventh settlement with a state agency for manipulating its SNAP quality control findings. The United States has reached previous settlements with state agencies in Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, Louisiana, Alaska and Mississippi, as well as with Osnes Consulting and its owner, Julie Osnes. Including this settlement, the United States has now recovered over $60 million in connection with this investigation.
The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort between the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch (Fraud Section) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington, with investigative support from USDA, Office of the Inspector General. The investigation arose out of a nationwide audit of SNAP Quality Control processes by the USDA-OIG.
“We appreciate the commitment and investigative assistance provided by our partners at the Department of Justice’s Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office throughout this multi-state investigation,” said Special Agent in Charge Bethanne M. Dinkins of the USDA, Office of Inspector General (OIG). “We also wish to note the technical assistance provided by our colleagues in the Office of Audit at OIG. During the investigation, conducted by OIG’s Northeast Regional Office, we worked together to address the concerns of employees of multiple states and others who alleged that the integrity of the SNAP quality control process was weakened by third-party consultants and/or the implementation of methods that injected bias into the QC process. These concerned individuals reported that cases were not being treated in a consistent manner, and that certain advice from consultants and/or the implementation of certain methods resulted in identified errors being diminished rather than used to improve eligibility determinations. 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.”
The matter was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dan Fruchter and Tyler Tornabene of the Eastern District of Washington and by Don Williamson, Senior Trial Counsel of the Fraud Section of the Department of Justice, Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch.
The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.
REPORT LOCAL COVID-19-RELATED FRAUD, HOARDING, AND PRICE GOUGING COMPLAINTS TO:
Federal Crimes and Agency Contact Information
Training and seminars for Federal, State, and Local Law Enforcement Agencies.
Help us combat the proliferation of sexual exploitation crimes against children.