Local News

Military Families Among Thousands Suspected of Food Stamp Fraud

Posted July 2, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Thousands of North Carolina families may have used Hurricane Fran as an excuse to cheat the government. A review of people receiving emergency food stamps shows almost half didn't qualify, including more than 2,000 state workers. The numbers are especially disturbing in Fayetteville.

The state says it looks like many families did not tell the truth about their income or hurricane losses. In Cumberland County, there are questions surrounding 70% of the recipients, including hundreds of military families.

Last September, people waited in long lines for hours to receive food stamps. The government relaxed eligibility guidelines to help people hurt by Hurricane Fran. Over one month, Cumberland County issued about $10 million in food stamps-- five times what it would have handed out.

You won't find any long lines today, just people picking up their regular booklets. They remember well what it was like here last fall. Bernice Reuben says she's one of those who did tell the truth when the government handed out emergency food stamps. Reuben had six small children to feed and lost a freezer full of food.

Robert Alexander qualifies for food stamps, but skipped the long lines after Fran. He thinks it's ridiculous so many people held out their hands. Alexander believes many people took the government for a ride. He says people saw an opening and took it.

The state has asked county social service departments to investigate questionable cases. Anyone caught cheating will have to pay restitution and may face prosecution.