Number signing up for public assistance increasing
Published: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 3:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 3:00 p.m.
The number of Alachua County residents using food stamps has increased 75 percent in the past five years — 14 percent of county residents are now getting them — prompting the state to find a more efficient way to communicate with recipients.
The Department of Children and Families this month announced that Florida recipients of public benefits can now receive email, text message or voicemail alerts regarding the status of their food stamp or cash assistance accounts.
This also will help the 11 percent of Alachua County residents receiving Medicaid and the 0.4 percent of county residents receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.
DCF spokesman John Harrell said the newfangled communication will pay for itself in terms of efficiencies realized.
The hope is to take some pressure off the state's call center, officials said.
"A lot of people need help right now," Harrell said. "This is going to make it easier."
Statewide, the 3.11 million state residents receiving food stamps represent a 166 percent increase in the number getting the assistance over the last five years. Locally, those increases are not quite that pronounced.
In the district covering Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties, the number of people receiving food stamps has increased 100 percent in the last five years.
The district that includes Alachua County, which also includes Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties, has seen its number of food stamp recipients increase 99 percent in that time.
But the rate of increase year over year has been dropping off from the 50 percent increases that occurred between 2008 and 2009 in some districts.
"There's still an increase (in the number signing up for benefits), but it was a bit more dramatic over the past couple of years," Harrell said. "It's certainly a sign of hope."
The alerts are set up through the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card.
Recipients may call EBT Customer Service at 888-356-3281 to register to receive an alert via voice or text message, or they may register at the EBT Account website (www.ebtaccount.jpmorgan.com) to receive an alert via email, voice or text message.
For more information about qualifying for benefits, visit http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/access/ or call 866-762-2237 from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Anne Geggis is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.
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