ORLANDO, Fla. - A worker shortage within the government is keeping some Floridians from getting SNAP benefits, which includes food stamps.
Last week, FOX 35 spoke with some people who stopped receiving benefits altogether due to a short-staffing issue at the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF). Now, DCF has responded to our questions.
"I was three hours waiting for this phone call," said Yessica Santos, of Orlando.
"There was actually a notice there that my benefits were being terminated," said David Mtetwa, of Plant City.
That was last week. Now, a week after our story first aired, DCF is addressing concerns and giving us answers. The department sent FOX 35 a statement, saying it has deployed more than 300 employees to help with processing benefits and answering phones and hired another 125 employees in the last two months.
"I appreciate that they're doing something because this is a help that people need," said Santos.
When we spoke to Yessica Santos last week, she feared she would lose her benefits. Since our story aired, she actually did receive a call from DCF.
"I’m going to be getting my benefits. It’s going to take a little bit because I understand, there’s only half of the people that they work for DCF," said Santos.
This week, DCF also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, requesting to extend the eligibility of recipients for recertification in March and April. DCF also asked to waive the interview part of the SNAP application process so more people can receive benefits faster.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, says many of her constituents initially went to her for help about this.
"I’m hopeful that the changes they’re requesting are going to be in the best interest of Floridians so that the federal government will approve them," said Rep. Eskamani.
DCF says Florida has a robust Public Benefit Integrity team to mitigate against fraud, and waiving the interviews will not dilute the integrity of their program.
"The fact that DCF is requesting to waive some of these requirements, I think it speaks to the fact that some of these requirements are not even necessary. I think it speaks to the fact that we do have other tools to prevent fraud," said Rep. Eskamani.
Santos hopes her benefits will come through in the next few weeks.
"I appreciate you because you doing your work. They need to keep working on this. Don’t stop working on this because people really need food," said Santos.
DCF says they are actively hiring more people to hand the influx of people applying for benefits during this pandemic period.