Post Hurricane Isabel Disaster Aid Audited Statewide
Fairfax County Office of Public
12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 551
Fairfax, VA 22035-0065
703-324-3187, TTY 703-324-2935, FAX 703-324-2010
Oct. 15, 2004
Post Hurricane Isabel Disaster Aid Audited Statewide
Forty plus jurisdictions in the Commonwealth of Virginia chose to administer the Disaster Food Stamp Program in the wake of Hurricane Isabel in Sept. 2003. This program allowed people who were significantly impacted by Hurricane Isabel to receive federal aid to assist them in recovering from the effects of the storm. Food-stamp benefits were available to people who had disaster-related expenses such as property damage, loss of income or inability to access their money to purchase food because of the hurricane. Those who normally might not qualify for food stamps were potentially eligible for the assistance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, required the Virginia Department of Social Services to conduct a 1 percent random audit of all Virginia households that received the assistance. No problems were found in any of the Fairfax County cases reviewed by the state as part of that audit.
The state agency and all local social services agencies that administered the food stamps were also asked to review the applications of all of their employees.
These mandatory audits have revealed that more than 600 state and local social-services employees were among 548,000 individuals in Virginia to receive $56 million in disaster food-stamp benefits after Hurricane Isabel.
Throughout the state in various local jurisdictions – including Fredericksburg, Stafford, Prince George County, Hopewell and Virginia Beach – this process of internal audit is underway. The discovery of fraudulent applications submitted by staffers in some localities has led to varying legal and personnel actions dependent on the circumstances of certain cases and the personnel regulations in each individual jurisdiction.
The state has reviewed applications of 100 full-time classified state employees. Of those, 54 were exonerated, while legal decisions were reached in 12 cases. Thirty-four cases are still to be decided. Actions have been taken in response to clear fraudulent intent on the part of the employees.
Here in Fairfax, the Self-Sufficiency Division of the Department of Family Services administered the post-hurricane disaster food stamp program. In addition to administering public assistance and employment programs through its self-sufficiency division, DFS, one of the county’s large agencies with over 1,400 employees, has other divisions which offer a wide range of programs including adult protective services and other help for seniors and adults with disabilities, emergency housing, support for families to prevent child abuse and neglect, child protective services, foster care & adoption, child-care centers, early education programs and oversight of home-based child-care providers.
During the seven days that Fairfax County administered the disaster food-stamp program – from Sept. 30 through Oct. 6, 2003 – many DFS employees worked multiple shifts and extended daily office hours throughout the weekend at four regional offices to process over 5,600 applications for county residents. Of the more than 4,700 households in Fairfax County that received emergency aid through the program, 31 were households of Fairfax County DFS employees at the time of application.
As a result of the federal mandate, those workers’ cases were audited and disciplinary actions have been initiated for 21 DFS staff, none of whom had any role in administering the disaster food stamp program. Disciplinary actions range from suspensions to possible termination from county employment.
An internal investigation conducted by the county’s Department of Family Services’ investigations unit found that the employees had either provided false information when they applied for and received disaster food-stamp benefits after Hurricane Isabel last year, or failed to cooperate in the investigation. Individual benefit amounts ranged from $256 to $733, and restitution will be required.
“The county felt that this was appropriate disciplinary action to take with its employees in light of the evidence our internal investigation has revealed,” said Fairfax County spokesperson Merni Fitzgerald.
DFS has made arrangements to ensure that the county’s disciplinary actions will not cause any disruption in the provision of agency programs or services.
“None of these employees had any role in administering the disaster food stamp program,” Fitzgerald pointed out. “As county residents, they applied for public assistance – their actions do not involve an abuse of their authority as county employees.”
“However, under-reporting income or misrepresenting personal
circumstances to qualify for more public assistance – no matter what the
amount – demonstrates a violation of the county’s standards of conduct
and disregard for the ethical behavior we expect of all county employees,
on or off the job.”
“Today’s unfortunate events are in direct contrast to what was otherwise a successful and ambitious effort by the county government to respond quickly and compassionately to the emergency needs of our residents after Hurricane Isabel,” she added.
For more information contact Merni Fitzgerald, at 703-324-3189, TTY