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Lawsuit Settlement Helps Disabled And Elderly Floridians Re-Apply For Disaster Food Assistance

The ability of our communities to successfully bounce back from disasters like Hurricane Irma depend on our most vulnerable neighbors getting the resources they need to recover.

Officials and community groups settle lawsuit that claimed that long outdoor lines that the state oversaw for food assistance in the aftermath of Irma discriminated against persons with disabilities and the elderly.

Miami, FL – Over 150,000 Floridians who started, but did not complete, pre-registration for the federal disaster food assistance program known as D-SNAP in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma last fall will now get an opportunity to apply for food assistance, thanks to a lawsuit settlement between state government officials and community groups.

Last October, tens of thousands of Floridians waited for hours in long outdoor lines to be interviewed for the food benefits. Lawyers from Florida Legal Services, the University of Miami’s Health Rights Clinic, and Community Justice Project sued DCF and the USDA, on behalf of the Miami Workers Center, New Florida Majority and individuals with disabilities claiming that the system discriminated against persons with disabilities who could not endure these conditions.

As a result of the settlement with the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), over 158,900 Floridians with incomplete registrations will receive a text message from DCF with a time, date and phone number to call in for a telephonic interview.  During the interview, the person will be asked about their disability, whether their disability prevented them from applying, their identity, income and resources during Irma, and the expenses they had due to Irma, like food that went bad.  If a disability prevented them from attending an in person application site, they will be able to apply for the benefits over the phone.

“This settlement is a good first step in improving the state’s emergency response systems,” said Andrea Mercado, Executive Director of the New Florida Majority (NewFM). “The ability of our communities to successfully bounce back from disasters like Hurricane Irma depend on our most vulnerable neighbors getting the resources they need to recover.”

“Every Floridian deserves to be treated with dignity, especially after something as traumatic as Hurricane Irma. This victory moves us closer to that goal.” said Marcia Olivo of Miami Workers Center

“People should not ignore this text message.” said Cindy Huddleston of Florida Legal Services.  “This will be the last chance for people to apply for D-SNAP assistance due to Hurricane Irma.”

In December, more than 4,400 persons with disabilities were awarded disaster food assistance through a first-ever telephonic interview process for the benefits.  Advocates estimate that the relief awarded as a result of the two-day telephonic interviews is approximately $3.7 million. That first round of interviews were held on December 2-3, 2017, for individuals and heads of household who had pre-registered for benefits but had disabilities that prevented them from lining up and waiting at a central location to be interviewed in person.

“I was so happy and relieved to be able to get this emergency food help,” stated Fulgencio Gallo, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. A former Cuban political prisoner and torture victim, Gallo suffers from multiple disabilities. “My family needed the food so badly that even with my health problems, I tried to go to the interview site. I stood in line for about seven hours in October in the heat and bad weather. I started to get very sick and I knew I would pass out, so I had to leave. Getting the food we needed has really helped my family recover from the Hurricane Irma.”

“We are proud to stand with everyday Floridians, like Shaina Barbosa, a Marine veteran and mother, who suffered a broken back and two traumatic brain injuries. Thanks to this settlement she will be able to put food on the table for her family,” said Huddleston.