The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services is launching an investigation into some New Iberia residents' suspected fraud in receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) benefits.

On April 27, a line of thunderstorms passed through the area bringing torrential rain and damaging winds that were blamed for causing power outages throughout the state. The storms did not spare Iberia Parish or the surrounding areas. Power outages were reported throughout the parish, with most lasting only a few hours while crews repaired the downed and damaged power lines.

Due to the storm knocking out electricity, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) offered replacement SNAP benefits to residents whose power was out for at least 24 hours, verified by their power provider.

On May 7, nearly 500 people went to the local DCFS office to apply for the replacement benefits. But according to Louisiana's Public Service Commission, only 91 customers were without power for 24 hours or more.

"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."

According to Sonnier, DCFS has launched an investigation with cooperation from Stephen Street, the state inspector general, and local law enforcement in which each claim will be reviewed. Those found to have fraudulently received benefits will lose their benefits.

According to the news release, first-time offenders will lose their benefits for one year; second-time offenders will lose them for two years. Third time offenders will lose their benefits permanently.

Claims for replacement benefits were issued across the state. Applications will be verified with local power providers.