TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Last month, 8 On Your Side reported on a food assistance benefits backlog. It prompted a huge response from viewers who told us, it’s a much bigger problem than most people realize.
Right now, we are keeping the pressure on the state to get Tampa Bay area residents the benefits they need.
Yolanda Harrison’s day started at 5:30 a.m. She met 8 On Your Side in a parking lot in Tampa after completing a shift at the warehouse.
“You’re working to put food on the table but you just need that extra help?” asked Investigative Reporter Mahsa Saeidi.
“Yes, and I actually want a table of my own,” Yolanda said.
Yolanda lost her housing in 2016. The mother, who has four children ranging in age from 17 to 24 years old, is staying with a friend of a friend.
“I have to go to the church in order to eat sometimes and I’m not ashamed of it, I mean this is what homelessness looks like,” she said.
The trips to food banks began after Yolanda’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits ended.
Like hundreds of others, Yolanda tells 8 On Your Side, she applied to have benefits renewed but the application is buried in a backlog.
“November 21st… that’s the last time I received them,” she said.
In Florida, the federal initiative is run by the Department of Children and Families.
8 On Your Side wanted to know what is being done to fix the backlog. So, we requested to speak with DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris.
We didn’t hear back regarding an interview.
8 On Your Side has also requested an interview with the Assistant Secretary for Economic Self-Sufficiency Maggie Mickler, directly responsible for administering SNAP, and DCF SunCoast Regional Managing Director Frank Prado.
The agency has not agreed to do an interview regarding the backlog.
On Friday, a spokeswoman released a statement saying in part:
“We understand how critical these benefits are and we are working rigorously to ensure Floridians receive the assistance they need. The Department is dedicated to providing Florida families with nutritional support to those that need it while they move towards self-sufficiency.”
According to the statement, initial applications are processed in about 17 days, on average.
But the delays 8 On Your Side have reported on aren’t happening during the initial application process.
Families say the delays are occurring during the renewal process, known as recertification.
“It’s like we’re forgotten, when will we be remembered?” asked Yolanda. “But I still try to keep my faith in the most high … ask him to guide my steps to better. And I want to strive for better, that’s all I want.”
8 On Your Side will keep working to help families secure their benefits.
If the agency has determined that you qualify for benefits and you’ve been waiting more than 30 days for the application to be processed, send an email to Mahsa at MSaeidi@WFLA.com