BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Last week's severe weather, which knocked out power and caused many to lose hundreds of dollars in food, also brought out the scam artists, according to the Department of Children and Family Services .
On May 7, nearly 500 people applied for replacement food stamps - or SNAP benefits - as a result of power outages, according to a DCFS news release.
To be eligible for replacement benefits, 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 launched an investigation. Working in partnership with the state inspector general and local law enforcement, DCFS will look at each claim. The department said any applicant found to have intentionally committed fraud will be sanctioned.
First-time offenders will lose their benefits for one year, second-time offenders face a two-year suspension, and third-time offenders will lose their benefits permanently.