Pasco County residents may soon find it more difficult to get help filing applications for Medicaid, food stamps, temporary cash assistance and more.
A sign in the entrance to the Port Richey Florida Department of Children and Families Access office confirms it's permanently closing on Friday, July 26.
A similar office in east Pasco County was closed a few years ago.
Residents will be referred to the department’s “Access Partners,” said Gabby Flores, the Community Outreach Manager for the Healthy Start Coalition of Pasco.
“The previous services that were provided by DCF offices will be provided by the Access partners here, in Pasco, so we are waiting to get a list of all of those partners from the DCF so that we are ready,” Flores said.
Many of the low- income residents who use DCF’s Economic Self Sufficiency Program services are elderly or don't have reliable transportation. The next two closest access offices - in Largo and Tampa - are not accessible by the county bus system.
Flores said some of DCF’s community partners will have mobile resources.
"So we're really counting on them to try to help us, they're very limited, most of them are in one place,” Flores said. “So we just don't know how that will affect us overall."
Pasco County Commission candidate Brandi Geoit, who once ran the West Coast AIDS Foundation, said there just aren’t enough volunteers at these organizations to help the people who can’t travel to another county for in-person assistance.
“With 47% of this county living at or below the federal poverty level, relying on the buses, how exactly are they supposed to get to Hillsborough?” she said.
Geoit is concerned this will over-burden organizations like Metropolitan Ministries, Good Samaritan Health Clinic, Premier Community HealthCare, and local libraries, that already struggling with limited resources.
“We currently have Good Samaritan, they see people without insurance, and they’ve already seen double what they saw last year for the uninsured. Premiere already is bursting at the seams with uninsured individuals that they're seeing,” Geoit said.
“So we're currently making it even harder for people to get access to Medicaid and to get access to food stamps. And it's going to cause a huge issue over here.”
Most of these services and applications can be accessed online, but Geoit says DCF’s website is confusing, and not everyone has the ability to navigate them.
“Not everybody has a fax machine. Not everybody has a computer. Not everybody has a smartphone,” Geoit said. “There's still senior citizens with flip phones that have no idea how to use this technology.”
Geoit said the St. Pete Access office is also closing, as well as others around the state.
DCF did not respond to requests for more information.
WUSF will update this story as more information becomes available.