Need To Register For Disaster Food Stamps? Prepare To Wait In Line (And In Court)

Need To Register For Disaster Food Stamps? Prepare To Wait In Line (And In Court)

On the first day of make-up registration for disaster food assistance, lines were long, while lawyers who were suing over how the program has been rolled out hashed things out in court.

People in Miami-Dade and Broward counties have through Thursday to sign up for the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) after the federal government granted extra days due to demand and safety concerns at some of the registration sites. But lawyers in federal court Tuesday argued that there had not been enough accommodation made for disabled people.

People with disabilities have been waiting in long lines in the sun and rain to register, a process that has to be done in person. While most registration sites did have separate lines for people who needed accommodations or pulled people out of line and used golf carts to bring them to a specific tent, many others were unable to wait even in those lines.

It hasn’t been easy to get food aid after Irma. You now have a second chance

It hasn’t been easy to get food aid after Irma. You now have a second chance

By mid-morning, a line of thousands had assembled outside the stadium, as the Department of Children and Families began to process a second round of applications for emergency food assistance after Hurricane Irma. As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 11,700 applications had been processed, Miami-Dade DCF spokeswoman Beatriz Lopez said.

At the BB&T Center in Sunrise, the wait was similarly long, with lines forming in the hot sun. Jude Bernardain, standing outside for more than two hours, said it was his fourth time trying to apply for the emergency food assistance program in person.

Tens of thousands of people showed up last month when the agency opened four assistance centers in Miami-Dade and three in Broward, overwhelming the sites to the point of closing early on some days.

To satisfy the still unmet need for food assistance, DCF said it would reopen two sites — one in Miami-Dade and one in Broward at the BB&T Center — for a second round Tuesday through Thursday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

DCF said it was taking some efforts to alleviate the long waits this time around, including special accommodations for people with disabilities and workers to direct traffic control. The agency said it would also assign specific days for registering based on a person’s last name. But the agency applied the same staggered strategy during the first round to its Broward sites, which also had to shutter because of the outsized demand.

Several legal groups, including the University of Miami Health Rights Clinic, sued DCF over the accessibility of the lines for those with disabilities. Advocates want people homebound by their disabilities to have the option to do the benefits interview over the phone.

DCF, USDA failed to accommodate the disabled for food stamp distribution, suit alleges

DCF, USDA failed to accommodate the disabled for food stamp distribution, suit alleges

The Department of Children and Families and the USDA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it failed to make accommodations for disabled people during its emergency food stamp distribution earlier this month, the University of Miami Health Rights Clinic alleges in a lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of two local advocacy groups and two men with disabilities.

The 45-page suit, filed in federal court Thursday afternoon, asks for the agency to implement the USDA’s best practices and offer alternatives for people who cannot wait in long lines to apply for much-needed assistance.

The federal department that handles food stamps offers several alternatives for those with disabilities or the elderly other than the large sites that garnered thousands of people in October. The law clinic is proposing smaller, satellite application sites in neighborhoods, special public transportation, home visits and Skype interviews.

“We want people to be treated humanely and with dignity,” JoNel Newman, director of the UM law clinic, said.

The plaintiffs are: Miami Workers Center, New Florida Majority, Fulgencio Gallo and Richard Caldas, two men who represent a class of individuals with disabilities. The listed defendants are: Mike Carroll, in his official capacity as secretary of DCF; Sonny Perdue, in his official capacity as secretary of the USDA and the USDA itself.

Could hurricane food assistance have been handled over the phone? Some say yes.

Could hurricane food assistance have been handled over the phone? Some say yes.

They lined up by the thousands and wilted for hours in the scorching South Florida sun in hopes of getting Hurricane Irma food assistance.

Traffic snarled roads. People fainted in the heat. Tempers flared. Scuffles broke out. Police abruptly shut down jammed-packed relief sites citing safety concerns, leaving people empty-handed, frustrated and confused.

Some applicants and advocates say those problems could have been avoided if people had been allowed to submit documents online and skip a federally required “face-to-face interview.”

The federal government has given Florida permission to conduct phone interviews instead of in-person interviews for people applying for regular food stamps. But those who don’t normally get food stamps must line up at relief sites to receive assistance after a disaster.

...

In a letter sent to DCF, Newman’s group and other advocacy organizations called the state’s efforts “wholly inadequate on every level.” Among their concerns voiced in the letter: Too few sites were open for too-limited of a time. (Miami-Dade had four sites scheduled to be open for five days to serve a county with a population of 2.7 million people). Police abruptly shut down sites in Broward and Miami-Dade counties because of health and safety concerns. The elderly and people with disabilities weren’t accommodated, the letter read. People were forced to stand in the sun.

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

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

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.”

Crowds, long lines raise questions on Florida hurricane voucher program

Crowds, long lines raise questions on Florida hurricane voucher program

Paralyzed traffic. Long lines in sweltering heat. And this is from a program intended to speed aid to victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters.

The state’s distribution of special federal food-stamp aid to victims of Hurricane Irma in Palm Beach County required thousands of applicants to wait hours in the hot sun Tuesday, in a repeat of a problem that attended the events in Broward and Miami-Dade counties last week.

“This is unacceptable,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said in a tweet Tuesday. “The state should’ve been prepared for this.”

Why did thousands wait hours in hot sun for post-Irma food stamps?

Why did thousands wait hours in hot sun for post-Irma food stamps?

Figueroa was among tens of thousands of people — 50,000 people showed up at just Tropical Park alone — over the last few days who camped out in snarling lines, braved the heat and in some cases, left empty-handed, after state officials closed food assistance centers.

The makeshift facilities were propped up to provide benefits for those who do not qualify for regular food stamps, but suffered a disaster-related loss because of Hurricane Irma.

The overwhelming response forced DCF to shut down several centers after law enforcement workers raised concerns about people suffering heat exhaustion and losing their tempers. The closures, however, left thousands in the lurch — angry, confused and wondering why DCF didn’t have a better system.

Food assistance centers close after people suffer heat exhaustion in line

Food assistance centers close after people suffer heat exhaustion in line

Police had to shut down food assistance centers in Broward Saturday after various people waiting in snarling lines suffered heat exhaustion, officials said. They will remain closed on Sunday.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office would not immediately disclose which centers were closed off to those arriving Saturday afternoon, but did say police had to break-up arguments caused by frustrated participants, as well as help alleviate gridlocked streets. Those who were overwhelmed by the heat were given medical attention.

In recent weeks, the Department of Children and Families opened up several food assistance centers in South Florida after the state activated its Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — also called D-SNAP.