(WSVN) - Like many South Floridians, he relied on food assistance, what was once called food stamps, but like a lot of South Floridians, he is losing that help. Can the state do that to him and others? It’s why we keep Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser on standby.

Valentin could complain about needing a cane to walk, but he won’t.

Valentin Garay: “So I’m like, I’m grateful I’m able to walk now.”

In 2005, he had another medical condition that left him unable to work and depending on monthly disability payments.

No complaints. He looked at the bright side.

Valentin Garay: “Which I’m very grateful to still be alive.”

And even when he called us for help, it wasn’t just for himself.

Valentin Garay: “You’ve got single women with children. They’re the ones who are going to be really struggling because of this.”

Valentin is referring to SNAP, a food assistance program that people used to call food stamps. Today, instead of stamps, money is put into Valentin’s EBT card each month.

Valentin Garay: “It’s not much money as far as the benefits that I get. But like I said, every bit helps.”

To get the food support, you have to reapply online, then call the state of Florida for a quick interview between 2 and 4 p.m.

Valentin Garay: “I leave messages. They don’t return my calls. Most of the times, you cannot leave a message anyway because the voicemails fall.”

Valentin has been calling since October for the interview. He finally got a letter from DCF in December.

Valentin Garay: “Indicating that my application was denied for food stamps, for food assistance, due to the fact that I was unable to have an interview.”

Valentin could not get through the state bureaucracy to talk to him, so they denied his food assistance because they did not talk to him.

Valentin Garay: “How can I have an interview to proceed with my application if I’m unable to have an interview with them?”

It’s almost comical, but it’s not, because we have heard from several people who told us they can’t get through the bureaucracy to get their food assistance reinstated.

Valentin Garay: “I’m not saying I don’t need it, but people that depend on it, I feel for them.”

Well, Howard, do needy people have a right to food assistance?

Howard Finkelstein: “Legally, the government has to provide the food assistance to people who need it, but legally, they don’t have to make it easy for them. For example, if no one answers the phone or returns your message, go to a local social service office for help. If you disagree with their decision to deny you benefits, you can ask for what is called a ‘fair hearing’ and ask them to reconsider. You can bring a lawyer, a friend or a relative to help you.”

In Florida, 14% of the residents, or more than one million households, receive food assistance, getting an average of $127 per person per month.

After we contacted Florida’s Department of Children and Families, they quickly took care of Valentin’s problem and reinstated his monthly food assistance.

Valentin Garay: “The very next day, the funds were going to be deposited in my account, so it was awesome, great.”

Valentin got through the state bureaucracy, with Help Me Howard guiding him.

Valentin Garay: “I have to thank Mr. Patrick Fraser and his crew for helping me out.”

The pandemic has DCF backed up, but of course, that’s a problem for every government agency and private business. They are all as backed up as traffic on I-95 in rush hour.

Hungry for some help? Here is some food for thought: Let us set the table and cook up a solution for you.

With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser, 7News.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
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