• Update: All Central Florida counties approved for food assistance funding

    By: Karla Ray


    Update: After 9 Investigates pushed for answers about federal help for food loss following Irma, officials with the Department of Children and Families announced all 48 counties have been approved for the USDA program, D-SNAP. More information can be found here. 


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    As thousands across Central Florida spent days without power, many had to throw away food, which can be costly to replace.


    Investigative reporter Karla Ray found out getting assistance to refill your fridge all depends on where you live.


    The Department of Children and Families announced $133 million in food assistance to be distributed to most of the state’s food stamp holders, but two Central Florida counties were left out. 


    Read: $180M allocated to state for Irma relief, but many unable to contact FEMA


    Sumter and Osceola counties were included in the original request by DCF for federal funding from the USDA, but DCF said the USDA did not approve of those counties receiving reimbursement for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, holders.


    A separate federal program known as Food for Florida, also administered by the USDA, hasn’t been enacted.


    For perspective, Texas requested the equivalent program there following Hurricane Harvey, but it was only enacted last week.


    Ray visited SNAP user Crystal Triplett’s Orange County home and saw extensive damage to her roof. 


    Read: FEMA, Small Business Administration answer your questions after Hurricane Irma


    Her family is still without power because repairs to her personal equipment can’t be done until her roof is repaired, and she threw out all the food that once filled her fridge and freezer.


    “Day four, we realized it was useless to try to keep anything, so we emptied out everything and put it to the curb,” Triplett said.


    Triplett will be able to replace some of the food with the help of SNAP. 


    DCF is issuing a 40 percent replacement of SNAP benefits to users across most of Florida, including Orange, Lake, Seminole, Polk, Marion, Volusia and Brevard counties, but a request for the same to be done for SNAP users in Osceola and Sumter Counties wasn’t approved by the USDA. 


    DCF is re-submitting its request for help in those areas.


    Food For Florida would allow people who make slightly more than the state’s threshold for food stamps to qualify for a one-time benefit to make up for food loss following disasters.


    No one from the USDA could say definitively whether the program would ever be approved for Irma victims in Florida.


    In an email, a USDA spokesperson said:

    “D-SNAP timing varies with the circumstances of each disaster, but it always begins after commercial channels of food distribution have been restored and families are able to purchase food to prepare at home. D-SNAP benefits are distributed via an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, which can be used to purchase food at most grocery stores.  Many households that wouldn’t normally qualify for SNAP benefits may qualify for D-SNAP, if they meet the disaster income limits and have qualifying disaster-related expenses.


    We continue to work with the State of Florida to meet our mutual goal of feeding those affected by Hurricane Irma, and will use every resource available to us – including D-SNAP – at the appropriate point in the recovery process to ensure all victims have access to food.  USDA and Florida are in constant communication to address both immediate and longer-term food needs of those impacted by the hurricane – including both those in Florida and those who have left the State.  Already, we have taken a number of actions, including all of those listed on this webpage.”

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