State officials are requesting the federal government allow people with disabilities and the elderly to skip long lines that have plagued Hurricane Irma food relief sites in South Florida.
The Florida Department of Children and Families wants to offer phone interviews to those groups instead of requiring them to complete an in-person interview. The agency is facing a lawsuit alleging it hasn’t done enough to accommodate people with disabilities.
The phone interviews would be offered Nov. 11-12, according to DCF.
“We recognize that there may be vulnerable Floridians still in need of assistance,” DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said in a prepared statement.
The assistance is offered through a joint effort of the state and federal governments to Floridians who suffered losses in the hurricane and don’t normally get food stamps. Those who are eligible receive anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000 to buy food.
A spokesman with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency that funds the program, could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.
Federal rules require applicants to apply in person, but home visits, telephone interviews and other options can be offered to people with disabilities under the guidelines.
Meanwhile, The Health Rights Clinic at the University of Miami has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the state of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Advocates argued it was unreasonable to expect Florida’s frailest residents to spend hours in lines that have reached into the thousands.
DCF officials have said they have special entrances at disaster-relief sites available to people with disabilities, and those applicants are moved to the front of the line.
Their plan approved by the federal government Sept. 21 doesn’t provide for other alternatives, such as home visits or phone interviews.
Crowds overwhelmed several sites during sign-up events from Oct. 11-15 in South Florida. Traffic snarled roads. Lines reached into the thousands, and officials reported people fainted from waiting hours in the hot sun.
Sign-ups will continue Nov. 7-9 at BB&T Center in Sunrise and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
DCF has distributed more than $1.3 billion in federal disaster food assistance through the emergency food stamp program and supplements to existing food stamp recipients.
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