Community organizations file lawsuit after Floridians denied access to food assistance
Lawyers ask for reasonable accommodations for disabled and vulnerable applicants to Disaster SNAP program

November 3, 2017

Miami, FL - The Miami Workers Center, New Florida Majority, and individuals with disabilities filed a class action lawsuit yesterday challenging the roll-out of disaster food assistance (D-SNAP) across the state of Florida. Almost two months after Hurricane Irma disrupted life for low-income and vulnerable residents, many eligible Floridians are still without food assistance.

After multiple requests for accommodations were denied, lawyers for the plaintiffs from the Health Rights Clinic at the University of Miami, Community Justice Project, and Florida Legal Services are asking a federal judge to keep the program open, implement best practices, and offer alternatives to those who cannot make it to application sites or stand in long lines. The Department of Children and Families (DCF), who is responsible for administering the program in Florida, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which funds and regulates the program, are among the defendants named in the lawsuit.

Florida’s implementation of the program has been fraught with problems.  In Broward, overwhelming turnout forced site closures just hours after opening. In Miami, there were reports of applicants fainting in line. In Jacksonville, lines reportedly formed by 3 A.M.. Applicants were forced to stand in hours-long lines in the sweltering heat, regardless of age or ability. DCF demanded in-person interviews, refusing to request waivers to conduct telephone interviews or operate out of community centers, instead launching costly mass sign ups as residents tried to get back on their feet. Florida already allows telephone interviews for regular food stamp applicants.

Media Contact:
Elizabeth Taveras, (305) 721-9661,
Renee Mowatt, (407) 575 - 3094 ,



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Less than a day after the lawsuit was filed, DCF responded to the community demand for telephone interviews for the D-SNAP program by requesting a federal waiver. Elderly and disabled applicants unable to make it to in-person registration events may be able to apply by phone on November 11-12. The fight continues for full accesibility. 


After a federal court hearing on the issue, USDA approved DCF's request for a waiver to allow some Floridians with disabilities will be able to apply for food assistance by phone Dec 2 & 3. 

To be eligible you:

  • Must have preregistered online by November 9, and
  • Must be head of household 60 years of age or older or disabled, and
  • Must have valid identification. Identity will be verified during the interview.

Others who weren't able to pre-register are still left out. We will continue the fight for access and equity with our partners!

November 27 update

DCF provided the following updated information:

"Phone interviews will take place between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. EST, on December 2 and 3, toll free at 855-278-7136. Qualifying individuals who provided cellular phone numbers with their preregistration may also receive direct communication from DCF. 

Requirements to participate in a DSNAP phone interview on December 2 and 3:

  • Must have preregistered online by November 9, and
  • Must be head of household 60 years of age or older or disabled, and
  • Must have valid identification. Identity will be verified during the interview.

Individuals who meet the above criteria with last names beginning with A-L should call 855-278-7136 on Saturday, December 2. Individuals who meet the above criteria with last names beginning with M-Z should call 855-278-7136 on Sunday, December 3. Callers should have their Florida driver license or identification and social security number ready. Callers will be asked questions to verify identity."

Please note a social security number is not necessary, but if you have one it will expedite the process.

JANUARY 10 update

Thousands of Floridians with Disabilities Receive Over $3 Million in Disaster Food Assistance as a Result of Lawsuit

According to information released last week by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), more than 4,400 persons with disabilities were awarded disaster food assistance in December through a first-ever telephonic interview process for the benefits.  The interviews were held on December 2 and 3 for individuals and heads of household who had pre-registered for benefits but had disabilities that prevented them from lining up and waiting at a central location to be interviewed in person.

Last October, tens of thousands of Floridians waited for hours in long outdoor lines to be interviewed for the food benefits, known as D-SNAP. On November 2, lawyers from Florida Legal Services, the University of Miami’s Health Rights Clinic and Community Justice Project sued DCF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), on behalf of the Miami Workers Center, New Florida Majority and a class of individuals with disabilities claiming that the system discriminated against persons with disabilities who could not endure these conditions. On November 3, DCF requested that USDA waive its in-person D-SNAP interview requirement to allow telephone interviews for elderly applicants or applicants with disabilities who had completed a pre-registration application online. USDA granted this waiver – the first ever – on November 16.

“I was so happy and relieved to be able to get this emergency food help,” stated Fulgencio Gallo, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. A former Cuban political prisoner and torture victim, Gallo suffers from multiple disabilities. “My family needed the food so badly that even with my health problems, I tried to go to the interview site. I stood in line for about seven hours in October in the heat and bad weather. I started to get very sick and I knew I would pass out, so I had to leave. Getting the food we needed has really helped my family recover from the Hurricane Irma.” 

Advocates estimate that the relief awarded as a result of the two-day telephonic interviews is approximately $3.7 million. “We’re obviously pleased with this result,” stated JoNel Newman, of UM’s Health Rights Clinic, “but concerned about the persons with disabilities that still haven’t been helped. Pre-registration was never required to receive D-SNAP, and now our clients who couldn’t pre-register have been left out of this relief.”

The groups are continuing the case on behalf of persons with disabilities who could not pre-register. “We have amended the complaint to seek the same relief for persons who couldn’t pre-register, like Shiana Barbosa, a Marine veteran and mother, who has suffered a broken back and two traumatic brain injuries. She tried to pre-register, but was unable to do so. Simple justice requires that she be treated fairly,” stated Cindy Huddleston of Florida Legal Services.

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