Miami-Dade County

DCF asks to allow phone interviews for people with disabilities seeking food stamps

People waiting in line at the food-stamp assistance center at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah in early October. Similar centers in Miami-Dade and Broward closed after an overwhelming response from Hurricane Irma.
People waiting in line at the food-stamp assistance center at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah in early October. Similar centers in Miami-Dade and Broward closed after an overwhelming response from Hurricane Irma. El Nuevo Herald

After nearly a month of repeated requests, Florida’s Department of Children and Families on Friday announced it would seek a waiver to make getting food stamps easier for elderly people or those with disabilities

The request comes one day after the University of Miami Health Rights Clinic filed suit against the agency and the USDA seeking a change in the process to get food stamps. The clinic wasn’t seeking money, only to make the process equal for people who could not physically wait in overwhelming lines to get help, the suit said.

The Department of Children and Families opened four food assistance centers in Miami-Dade and three in Broward for those who needed emergency benefits, known as DSNAP. The centers were so overwhelmed with applicants that law enforcement requested that some be shut down. Those in line waited for hours in the sun to apply for benefits.

On Friday, JoNel Newman, the law clinic’s director, said she was happy the department finally made the request but couldn’t understand why it had taken so long.

“USDA has the power to grant a waiver,” she said. “DCF should have asked originally.”

In the Friday release, the Department of Children and Families called the operation to interview people and give out emergency food stamps after Hurricane Irma “unprecedented in size and scope” and said accommodations have been made at each of the sites for the elderly and people with disabilities.

“Onsite staff are working to monitor the population of those in lines to assist elderly and disabled residents to the front of the line. Those who need these accommodations should find staff to inquire about expedited service,” the department wrote in a statement.

In the Nov. 3 letter to the USDA, the state agency asked for permission to allow elderly or disabled applicants to call in to a hotline on Nov. 11 and 12 to request benefits. The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The state agency said as of Oct. 31 it has processed more than a million Florida applications for disaster assistance since the clinic opened, with the highest number (114,019) coming from Miami-Dade County.

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