TAMPA, Fla. — Roughly 1.6 million households in Florida rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits to put food on the table.
SNAP is a federal program and in Florida, it's run by the Department of Children and Families. In recent weeks, many SNAP recipients have noticed delays in their benefits leaving them with empty debit cards meant to be used specifically for food.
The Department of Children and Families sent a letter earlier this week to the U.S. Department of Agriculture requesting that the agency waive some current requirements, such as interviewing people prior to approval and extending eligibility for some recipients coming up on recertification.
DCF is awaiting approval for the flexibilities and waivers it believes will make it easier and faster to get SNAP applications processed in Florida.
The letter signed by Secretary Shevaun Harris said, "Thank you for meeting with us last week and hearing some of the challenges faced here in Florida (similar to many other states) in implementing the SNAP program because of workforce vacancies."
A spokesperson with DCF told 10 Tampa Bay the department is using internal resources to prioritize processing benefits and hired another 125 staff members in December and January to assist with the backlog.
Feeding Tampa Bay, a non-profit organization providing food to nearly 1 million families in West Central Florida, felt the impact of delayed SNAP benefits right away.
"When there’s delays, issues, or challenges, or benefits stopped, that causes families to sink much faster," said Thomas Mantz, the president and CEO of Feeding Tampa Bay.
It's not just people waiting on backlogged benefits rushing to the donation centers but other economic factors like inflation and the rising cost of living in the Tampa area that doesn't allow many families enough money for food.
"You can’t survive on $10 an hour in Tampa, Florida. There’s no way. You're forced to decide whether you’re going to eat or pay your rent," said Marla Bautista, co-founder of The Bautista Project Inc.
Bautista's husband is in the Army, and the two of them created their non-profit to help homeless veterans in the Tampa area. Every Friday, the group hosts a pop-up food pantry for veterans.
Speaking for many military families who don't qualify for government assistance Bautista said, "We’re sacrificing either food or childcare or some other necessity in order to make ends meet."
If you're experiencing delays in your SNAP benefits, we want to hear about it. E-mail us at news@10TampaBay.com.
If you need food for yourself or your family, click here to get fresh groceries or find a donation pantry near you.