TAMPA (WFLA) – Right now, we’re learning more about what’s behind a backlog for food assistance benefits.

As Tampa Bay area families wait for those benefits, local pantries are helping to put dinner on the table. For the first time in two weeks, the state is responding to 8 On Your Side’s report.

Before the pandemic, 600,000 people were experiencing food insecurity, according to Feeding Tampa Bay. Now, that number has grown to a million.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP helps lower income families buy food.

If you qualify, cash is placed on a reloadable card for groceries. In Florida, the federal initiative is run by the Department of Children and Families.

“We’re on the rotation going to food banks to get food to feed ourselves,” St. Petersburg resident Charlie Dean said.

Dozens of Tampa Bay area families tell 8 On Your Side, they’re waiting for the state to renew their SNAP benefits.

In emails, they claim the Florida Department of Children and Families, which runs the federal program, is experiencing a backlog in processing applications.

Now, we’re getting new insight about what could be behind the delays viewers are reporting.

Matt Spence is the Chief Programs Officer at Feeding Tampa Bay, the regional food bank for 10 area counties.

“Renewals have started again, for a long time, there were automatic renewals throughout the pandemic,” Spence said.

His team helps families apply for snap benefits.

Spence says families were automatically renewed for benefits during the pandemic but that waiver has now expired.

That means, more people are waiting for re-approval.

“On top of that, we had some pandemic EBT challenges, and the state of Florida is now issuing summer 2021 benefits out to those who are eligible,” Spence said.

Summer 2021 benefits that were supposed to be distributed in June and July just started going out to families last month.

After two weeks, DCF responded to the alleged backlog, sending 8 On Your Side the following statement:

Customers are encouraged to utilize the Department’s Self-Service Portal to make changes or check the status of their benefits. The Self-Service Portal is available online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, the Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) virtual assistant stands ready to assist clients by providing case information and answering benefit questions.

DCF staff have been diligently working to process applications and recertifications as quickly as possible. The Department continues to meet the 30-day federal standard for processing applications.”

Meantime, Spence says if you have trouble applying online, consider an in-person visit.

“If you struggle at all, our team at Feeding Tampa Bay is here to assist, the DCF offices do a great job at assisting but you need to have all of that documentation in line in order to be able to apply,” he said.

If you have waited more than 30 days for your application to be processed, email Mahsa Saeidi at MSaeidi@WFLA.com