A "technology glitch" put 27,000 Floridians receiving food stamps at risk of losing their benefits.
People in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) must provide updated information to the Department of Children and Families either every six months or every 12 months to determine if they continue to meet the income guidelines. The recipients receive a notice — by mail or email — a month prior to their recertification deadline informing them of the requirement.
Michelle Glady, press secretary for the Florida Department of Children and Families, said 27,000 customers out of more than 200,000 scheduled for review in February didn't receive the notice in January. When these clients missed the February deadline, they were no longer eligible to receive benefits.
For people like Christopher McMahon of Cape Coral, the glitch resulted in an uncomfortable situation at a local store. McMahon usually receives his money on the 10th of each month. He was in line at the grocery store with more than $100 of bagged groceries when he swiped his electronic benefits card and discovered it had no money on it.
A single man, McMahon receives $189 in food assistance each month — about $6 a day.
"It's not much, but it helps," McMahon said.
McMahon, 44, is certain he will qualify to continue receive food stamps. He was injured while working in construction and is on workers' compensation. But he hopes it doesn't take the 30 days he was told it might before he receives the money he needs to buy food.
Glady said the state is sending a letter to affected program recipients telling them they can still apply for recertification through the end of March. "And, if eligible, receive benefits without a break," Glady wrote in an email.
For people who receive food assistance from the government, even a short disruption, "(A)dds to the human misery," said Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and author of "Food Politics: How the food industry influences nutrition and health"
Nestle said more people are in the food stamp program because of the bad economy. "People are either out of work or working at minimum-wage jobs that don't pay enough to live on," she wrote in an email.
The guidelines for the program are set by the federal government. To receive a monthly benefit of $632 in food assistance, the monthly household income of a family of four can't be greater than $2,552. Income tests don't apply if all the members of the household are receiving welfare (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Glady said people who need to complete their review for recertification should go to the department's website at myflorida.com/accessflorida. If a client doesn't have Internet access, Glady said, he or she can go to a local service center or one of the many nonprofit and governmental community partner organizations.
"Each application will be evaluated to determine if income and/or expenses qualify the case to be processed under expedited criteria. If they meet expedited criteria they will receive their benefits within seven days, otherwise the state is held to a 30-day time standard," Glady said. However the state processes most applications to the program within 12 days.