Well-paid Hollywood firefighters sought emergency food stamps after Wilma
y Shannon OBoye
Posted January 24 2006
Hollywood · A group of civic activists is taking the city to task over the case of three firefighters who applied for emergency food stamps after Hurricane Wilma, even though they each earn more than $70,000 per year.
The federal emergency food stamp program, run by the state Department of Children & Families, was intended for people who lost wages or suffered such catastrophic damage they could not feed their families that month. Approximately 500,000 Floridians applied.
Firefighter Anthony Cioppa, 41, Capt. Raymond Powers, 51, and Driver-Engineer William Gutierrez, 42, made substantial overtime as a result of the hurricane, city records show. It's unclear whether all the men received aid because such records are not open to the public.
Charles Vollman, president of the Hollywood Council of Civic Associations, said Monday his board could not believe that "with one of them making over $100,000 a year, that they would have the gall to apply for food stamps."
In a letter to the city, the Council called the firefighters' actions "unethical" and "unconscionable."
Pete Brewer, president of the North Central Civic Association, said the city should make the men write checks to charity in any amount they may have collected.
Cioppa, who lives with his mother and whose children live with him about four times a week, said Monday he received a food stamp debit card. He now regrets it.
"I worked for Eastern Airlines. We went on strike and I walked the picket line for two years," he said. "They offered us groceries, but I wouldn't take anything. I was too proud ... All this for 200, 300 bucks? It's not worth it. It's an embarrassment. I apologize," he said.
Cioppa said he and his co-workers never stood in line or met with a DCF caseworker to verify their information as other applicants did. DCF spokeswoman Leslie Mann said if that happened, it was "an anomaly."
"When we received an application, you had to meet with a worker because they had to fill out a worksheet," she said. "There's no getting around that. I don't understand how that's possible."
Powers could not be reached for comment. Gutierrez declined to comment.
Fire Chief Virgil Fernandez said he had no problem with the three applying. His concern, which he counseled them about, was that they did so while on duty and in uniform.
The three were assigned at the time to the Millennium Mall application site in case anyone fell ill in line.
"As far as I'm concerned, I handled it," Fernandez said.
City Manager Cameron Benson said Monday he supported the chief's handling of the situation. Union president Russ Chard defended the men.
"Being a firefighter, you don't forfeit your rights as a citizen," Chard said. "If they applied for a benefit and legitimately qualified, they're no different from anybody else."
DCF determined eligibility for the food stamps by looking at a 30-day window a few days before and several weeks after the hurricane.
If a family's income minus hurricane expenses fell within a specified dollar amount, they were eligible for a one-time food stamp allotment ranging from $152 for one person to $912 for a family of eight.
From Oct. 21 through Nov. 21, city records show:
Cioppa, 41, who earns $70,019 annually, made $9,548.56 in salary and overtime. That is more than four times the state's income limit for a family of four, and almost three times the limit for a family of eight.
Powers, 51, who earns $100,748 annually, made $9,122.65 in salary and overtime.
Gutierrez, 42, who earns $77,144 annually, made $6,412.58 in salary and overtime.
Fernandez said he did not ask the firefighters what they reported on their aid forms or whether they ever received food stamp debit cards. It's none of his business, he said.
Shannon O'Boye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-385-7912.