Floridians can get post-Irma food assistance

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People who need help paying for food after Hurricane Irma can get federal assistance beginning Sunday in Pasco County; Natalie Harrell, the regional communications director for the Florida Department of Children and Families, says plans are in place to make sure residents can get the help they need despite the chaos and crowds seen at previous “Food for Florida” events around the state.

Listen:

“Starting November 5th through November 8th, we will be hosting the Food for Florida site at the Pasco County Fairgrounds. This is a disaster food assistance benefit program for anyone who was impacted by Hurricane Irma.”

In other places in Florida there have been really long lines. You’re anticipating probably a lot of people. What should people know before they go, in order to be organized and to have everything they need and to make sure that they don’t get turned away?

“We highly encourage everyone to preregister online at myflfamilies.com. That will allow them to have a faster processing time onsite and they will also receive their benefits sooner. They’ll receive them within about 72-hours. If they do not preregister on-site, the wait will be longer; they’ll have to fill out a paper application and it can take up to 7-10 days for them to receive their benefits.”

The Department of Children and Families, your organization, says that it’s processed more than 937,000 DSNAP applications–maybe you can tell us what DSNAP is – to help more than 7.2 million Floridians. That seems like a lot of people.

“It’s quite a few families that have been impacted by Irma. This was a massive storm that swept through the entire state and everyone was very adversely effected by it in many different ways. We’ve been very privileged as an agency to be able to assist families in need. We’ve been doing this since the end of September and we’ve been able to help provide $1.2 billion in food assistance to families, so that they can get back on their feet and be able to provide nutritious meals for their families.”

Where does that $1.2 billion dollars come from?

“That $1.2 billion is paid for by the USDA. That is federal funds that, as a state agency, we administer the program, but, the funds that everyone receives are federal funds.”

And that’s the Federal Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That was the DSNAP?

“Yes. That is DSNAP.”

What can you tell us about safety? Your press release says that public safety is paramount and your first priority as you operate assistance sites. What’s been the situation like at other of these events?

“Thankfully, within our Tampa Bay area we have not had any issues. There have been some issues in the Miami and Broward area, where there just wasn’t as much security as we would have liked, so we have made sure that there’s plenty of security at all of our sites, moving forward. Safety and security is paramount at all times.”

Is it a case where you run out of aid or people are getting turned away?

“We will not run out of aid. I can tell you that. The cards that everyone receives, the funds are electronically added to the card at the end of the day. So, that’s when they’ll be electronically added either within 72-hours if you preregister or 7-10 days if it’s paper. There is no running out of funding or cards or anything like that. There was just some confusion in some of the other sites, from my understanding, that some people thought that they would run out of cards or run out of benefits. That is not the case. We absolutely have plenty of cards to disperse and we will be electronically adding the funds to the cards. There’s no concern that the money will run out.”

Why do you think there’s so much demand? I mean, you’re talking about maybe 1/3 of Floridians that you’re helping. Could that many people really need food assistance in Florida? What does that say about food security, here in Florida?

“I think that says a lot about food security, but, also it says a lot about just how impactful Hurricane Irma was. There were many people without power for many days. There were a lot of businesses that were closed. People lost work. People who even had second jobs as an Uber or Lyft driver weren’t able to work for several days. I think it says a lot about both food insecurity in general, but, also about the wide impact of this unprecedented hurricane that hit our entire state.”

And before I let you go, is there anything else our listeners should know about your program?

“We just highly encourage everyone to preregister online at myflfamilies.com. Again, that will expedite the process on-site, but, also it will allow them to get their benefits quicker.”

Great. I appreciate your time today. Thanks so much.

“Thank you.”