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After Receiving Emergency Food Assistance, Some Report That Their Cards Don't Work

Ramon Heredia, 60, from Hialeah, stands in line in hopes of receiving aid from a post-hurricane disaster center in Tropical Park in Miami on Sunday, Oct. 15.
Matias J. Ocner
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

After waiting in long lines for food assistance cards after Hurricane Irma, some of the recipients in Miami-Dade are reporting the cards could not be used within the timeline they were given. 

The Department of Children and Families (DCF), which manages D-SNAP, the Florida disaster food assistance program, said it would take up to 72 hours for cards to be activated. In some cases, people were reporting a week later they still didn't  have any money on their cards. 

Eugene Johnson said he received his card on the first day they were distributed in Miami-Dade County. Three days later he went to his local grocery store and filled his cart with bread, bacon, eggs, cheese and vegetables. 

"I had everything packed up,"  he said. "And when I went to check out, they told me I had zero dollars."

He left the food behind and went home. Since then, he said he called the 1-800 number every morning only to find that his card still had not been activated.

Nine days later, he finally got the response he was waiting for. 

"My card had money on it," said Johnson. 

Despite Johnson's and many others' experiences, DCF says it is managing to get people their benefits on time.

"For the overwhelming majority of applicants who pre-registered and applied electronically, DCF has deposited D-SNAP funds into their accounts by the 72-hour requirement," said David Frady, press secretary for the Department of Children and Families, in an email.

Kendrix Haynes lost all his food during Irma, just like so many others in South Florida. He  went to try and get assistance Thursday of last week. He waited in line for four hours, was approved and went home with his card. He called Friday, more than a week later, to see why he still didn't have benefits on his card. He was told here was some issue with his Social Security number.

"They should have notified me instead of me waiting. It could have been corrected,” said Haynes, who decided to call DCF days after his card was supposed to be loaded with the food assistance.

"It's not good," Haynes said of DCF's communication before and after the registration period.

This is the latest frustration in what some have described as a disorganized and chaotic process to get food assistance in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Some of the centers closed abruptly because they were overwhelmed with thousands of people seeking assistance. Among the concerns was safety after police noted fights breaking out and people fainting in lines that stretched for blocks. 

The University of Miami Health Rights Clinic along with several nonprofits wrote a letter to DCF criticizing the process.

“As you are no doubt aware, the failures of the D-SNAP program in Miami-Dade County created public health concerns, hardship and risk to vulnerable populations,” the letter states. “It also failed to serve innumerable eligible individuals who need food. The roll-out of D-SNAP in Miami-Dade County was wholly inadequate on every level.”

DCF has said that eligible families who need D-SNAP will still be able to access it, but has not yet provided any additional sign-ups in Miami-Dade or Broward County. The federal government has approved the state to hold add one additional registration day in Miami-Dade County and three days in Broward County because of the challenges those counties faced. It has not yet approved the stated request to add additional days state-wide.

"We are concerned that DCF's request to unilaterally extend the application period beyond the approved seven-day period for an undetermined amount of time in the remaining counties lacks specific data and justification," wrote Jessica Shahin, associate administrator with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in response to Florida's request.

The USDA asked for more justification.

Meanwhile, Palm Beach County has one more day of registration at its three sites and will be accepting people for extra hours - doors will be open until 7 p.m. Saturday.

DCF has approved 658,000 families for food assistance state-wide,  more than 170,000 from South Florida.

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Nadege Greencovers social justice issues for WLRN.
Wilson Sayre was born and bred in Raleigh, N.C., home of the only real barbecue in the country (we're talking East here). She graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she studied Philosophy.