DCF halts in-person applications for benefits like food stamps

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Low-income Floridians seeking benefits such as food stamps, temporary assistance or Medicaid coverage will no longer be able to apply for them in person because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell said Wednesday the state was temporarily shutting down offices where people could apply or reapply in person for safety-net benefits. The state will direct people to either use an online portal or apply by phone. DCF will also allow people to drop off documents at a “secure drop box.” Poppell did not say how long the offices would be closed.

The move came as business closings and disruptions caused by the outbreak appear likely to trigger the loss of thousands of jobs in the state. But Poppell said the offices had only served a small percentage of residents seeking help. “

With more than 90 percent of our customers filing for benefits online or by phone, closing our storefronts to protect our employees and the public is the right thing to do,” Poppell said in a statement.

DCF serves as the gatekeeper that helps with initial eligibility determinations for the programs. Poppell said the department will handle initial eligibility interviews over the phone.