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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Florida Hurricane Food Relief Program Reaches Historic High

Florida’s hurricane food relief program has become one of the largest food disaster programs in American history. According to The Los Angeles Times, Florida’s food relief program created in the wake of Hurricane Irma has climbed in price to over $1.3 billion.

Approximately 460,000 people in Lake, Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties have received up to $153 million total in disaster food stamps, or D-SNAP. Those who received food stamps prior to Hurricane Irma were also provided with $49 million from the federal Supplemental Food Assistance Program to replace spoiled food caused by the hurricane.

“I have to say, after 24 years of doing this work, going through all kinds of disasters, I believe the state overall did one of the finest jobs that I’ve seen,” said CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Dave Krepcho. “We know there was incredible need after the disaster hit.”

This incredible need became evident when in-person registration became required for D-SNAP. Up to 86% of Floridians have air conditioning to help combat against the tropical heat. However, understaffing and long lines led to tens of thousands of Floridians waiting for hours outside four South Florida registration sites. Many people were turned away due to health and safety concerns such as heat exhaustion.

Although the D-SNAP and SNAP programs are led by the federal Department of Agriculture, it was the Department of Children and Families agency running the registration. DCF runs a number of programs for Florida families including a program for substance abuse using methadone, a treatment medication that’s proven to be 60% to 90% effective in rehabilitation. Unfortunately, DCF’s D-SNAP registration process has earned state-wide criticism from both residents and officials.

“DCF’s failure to properly staff application sites has led to exceptionally long lines that have made it impossible for hundreds of thousands of Florida families to get the benefits they need,” said Florida Senator Bill Nelson.

Nelson wrote an official letter to the Department of Agriculture demanding the emergency food aid application deadline be extended for Floridians. “These families should not be punished for the state’s failure to properly administer this program,” Nelson said.

According to The Los Angeles Times, DCF responded to Nelson’s letter by noting that 6,000 workers and 1,500 temps had been on the job during the registration process. Yet, those who are eligible for aid registration outnumber the 7,500 workers by millions. What’s more is that 48 counties were approved for D-SNAP, but only five were accepting applications for benefits.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said he was proud of the agency’s effort, but announced Friday, November 3 that he’d made a request to the federal government asking residents who are disabled and elderly to be able to register by phone rather than in-person.

Compared to the 736,700 American workers who experienced occupational injuries in 2013, DCF estimated that up to 2.5 million Florida households would be applying for D-SNAP benefits. However, less than 1 million households have applied.

Despite the setbacks in D-SNAP applications, Florida is still moving forward. On Monday, November 6, job recruiters in the hospitality industry hosted a job fair at the Orange County Convention Center.

The fair was designed to help those who lost their jobs due to Irma get back on their feet again. More than 70 employers attended the fair and those who attended received both interview and resume training. There are approximately 21.1 million firms in the U.S. currently without employees. Over 100 people were hired at the fair on-site.

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