Florida Legal Services and Disability Rights Florida want the state to clarify how it handles social service applications from people who are disabled. The organizations are concerned thousands of disabled Floridians can’t apply for food stamps or other services in the state’s online system.
In an attempt to save money Florida shuttered some of its DCF field offices and transitioned to an online food stamp application process in an attempt to save money.
Florida Legal Services attorney Cindi Huddleston says the system has largely worked for many people, "but for people it doesn’t work well for—people with certain disabilities, those with language barriers, it doesn’t work well at all.”
Take the case of 52-year-old Walton County resident Kathryn Cosson. She’s blind, and lives alone. She’s tried for years to re-certify for food stamps with the Department of Children and Families, but says she’s received little help when she’s called the hotline.
“They sit there, and they tell me, ‘you have to fill out those papers, I don’t care if you’re legally blind, deaf, your right arm or leg are cut off, it’s your responsibility to find someone to fill them out for you.’ Then they hang up," she said.
DCF has polices for helping people with disabilities access benefits, but Cosson believes they’re not always followed. And finding out who to call, and where to go is hard. She’s turned to Legal Services and Disability Rights Florida for help. Legal Services' Huddleston says she doesn’t blame the state agency.
“I think when you call the call center, they have so many coming in, they just want to get it done as fast as possible," she said.
Cosson and her attorneys are asking DCF to formalize their process for people with disabilities in an official rule. They want the agency to provide alternative contacts so people don’t have to go through the hotline. DCF Spokeswoman Michelle Glady says the agency is reviewing the request. It has 30 days to respond.