TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Hundreds of Florida families report that they are still not getting the benefits they need to put food on the table. 8 On Your Side continues to look into the state’s backlog when it comes to sending out Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits. 

Now, we are getting new insight into what could be causing the delays.

8 On Your Side has learned the Florida Department of Children and Families is having a hard time keeping employees. Right now, one in four positions are vacant in the division that handles SNAP.

Hundreds of Floridians tell 8 On Your Side, the state is not doing enough to address the problem.

To get groceries, Barbara Conner and her 73-year-old partner have to catch two buses to get to the closest food bank.  

She says it’s been seven weeks since she received her SNAP benefits, even though she completed the recertification process on time.

“Did you renew on time?” asked Investigative Reporter Mahsa Saeidi.

 “Oh yes. I had up until Dec. 15th. I had it done by the 29th of November,” said Conner.

Right now, Conner’s application is still pending. Her fridge is almost empty and she hasn’t been able to get any answers from the state.

“You spend hours on the phone trying to get through to DCF,” said Barbara.”I do think they’re failing us because I’m not the only one that’s waiting.”

8 On Your Side has heard from hundreds of families since first reporting on the benefits backlog. In emails received around the clock, Floridians say their applications have been pending 40, 50, even 60 days. So far, DCF has declined to do an interview with 8 On Your Side on the subject and deny there’s a problem.

In a statement, the agency told Investigator Mahsa Saeidi they’re processing applications within 30 days. But DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris painted a less rosy picture before the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability last week.

“Coming out of the pandemic, where most industries are having recruitment challenges, we have seen increased vacancies and turnover and a shortage of qualified or willing candidates for many of our critical class positions,” said Sec. Harris. “The pandemic also increased the workload at DCF, specifically in our department that processes public assistance benefit applications.”

During the presentation, DCF revealed one in four positions are vacant in the division that processes SNAP benefits. The agency says the workload increased during the pandemic.  Some employees have left for better paying, less stressful, jobs.

“As you can imagine, a decline in workforce numbers combined with an increase in workload only exacerbates the turnover rate,” said Sec. Harris. “I want to assure you that enhancing recruitment and retention strategies is at the forefront of our strategic plan and we’re not sitting by during this difficult time.”

As DCF works to fix the issue, single mothers and seniors like Barbara, are hoping their application will be processed next.

“Secretary Harris, I hope that you can help me along with all the other people that are out there, especially the ones with children,” said Conner.

Multiple state agencies told Florida senators they’re having issues recruiting and retaining workers. DCF says they’re attending job fairs at universities, colleges and high schools. The agency has also created hiring hubs to try to fill vacancies in each region.