Health Rights Clinic Lawsuit Allows Thousands to Receive Disaster Food Assistance


According to information released last week by the Florida Department of Children and Families more than 4,400 persons with disabilities were awarded disaster food assistance in December through a first-ever telephonic interview process for the benefits. 

Last October, tens of thousands of Floridians waited for hours in long outdoor lines to be interviewed for the food benefits, known as D-SNAP. Thousands of people with disabilities were unable to stand in lines to apply.

On November 2, lawyers from Miami Law’s Health Rights Clinic, with Florida Legal Services and the Community Justice Project, sued DCF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on behalf of the Miami Workers Center, New Florida Majority, and a class of disabled individuals claiming that the system discriminated against persons with disabilities who could not endure these conditions. 

On November 3, DCF requested that USDA waive its in-person D-SNAP interview requirement to allow telephone interviews for elderly or disabled applicants who had completed a pre-registration application online. USDA granted this waiver – the first ever – on November 16.

Advocates estimate that the relief awarded because of the two-day telephonic interviews is approximately $3.7 million.

The interviews were held on December 2 and 3 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,” said 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,” Gallo said. “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 Hurricane Irma.”  

 “We’re obviously pleased with this result,” said JoNel Newman, director of the Health Rights Clinic, “but concerned about the persons with disabilities that still haven’t been helped. Pre-registration was never required to receive D-SNAP, and now our clients who couldn’t pre-register have been left out of this relief.” 

The groups are continuing the case on behalf of persons with disabilities who could not pre-register. 

“We have amended the complaint to seek the same relief for persons who couldn’t pre-register, like Shiana Barbosa, a Marine veteran and mother, who has suffered a broken back and two traumatic brain injuries,” said Cindy Huddleston, an attorney at Florida Legal Services. “She tried to pre-register but was unable to do so. Simple justice requires that she be treated fairly.”