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Florida takes a dim view of those accused of welfare fraud

Florida, like every state in the United States, has programs intended to help those who have fallen on tough times. Medicaid, for example, provides health insurance for those whose income would leave them unable to access health insurance or health care. Food stamps or similar benefits can help people struggling on low income to provide nutritious food for their families. There are even benefits to help with housing and child care in some situations.

While they only represent a fraction of applicants and recipients, some people do intentionally try to defraud the state of Florida by seeking benefits they don't actually qualify for or need. These individuals, if caught, could face very steep penalties from a state dedicated to prosecuting anyone who abuses welfare programs.

Florida has a whole department looking for fraud

While some states rely on internal audits, annual paperwork or citizen reporting to track abuse, Florida is much more proactive about hunting down those who shouldn't receive benefits. There is a subdivision of the Florida Department of Financial Services, called the Division of Public Assistance Fraud. The entire purpose of this unit is to search for those applying for or receiving benefits that they shouldn't receive.

This department investigates allegations of fraud related to:

  • any form of cash assistance (temporary or otherwise)
  • the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), also called food stamps
  • Medicaid
  • Social Security Disability
  • Disaster Assistance and emergency benefits

The state also incentivizes reporting neighbors or family members for fraud by promising informants up to 10 percent of the amount recovered, which could be up to $500,000. Those suspected of fraud may need to provide medical or financial records to establish their innocence. Fraud allegations can have serious criminal consequences.

Welfare fraud takes on many shapes and sizes

Florida law is very clear about the illegal nature of receiving benefits that an individual does not actually qualify to receive. Welfare fraud can come in many forms. Sometimes, people fail to provide accurate information on an application. They may intentionally avoid providing one piece of information that would preclude them from qualifying, such as a job that pays "under the table."

Welfare fraud can also involve a failure to report a change in your circumstances as soon as possible. If you secure a better job, receive back owed child support or otherwise improve your financial situation, you need to let the state know. That way, they can adjust or eliminate your benefits as necessary. Failing to do so could constitute fraud. Any form of transferring or selling benefits to someone else is also a form of fraud.

The penalties assessed in a welfare fraud case will relate to the value of the benefits someone fraudulently received. Amounts of $200 or less could mean a year in jail or probation and a fine of $1,000. For fraud involving amounts over $200, the crime becomes a felony offense that carries up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Medicare and Medicaid fraud may be federal offenses.

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