Thousands line up in Plant City for hurricane help

PLANT CITY, Fla. (WFLA) – Ramon Miller left his house early, hoping to beat the huge line to get into Plant City Stadium.

“It’s been, it’s been a long time. It’s been about three hours. I left my house around 6:00 a.m. this morning,” said Miller.

Like thousands of others, Miller came to apply for assistance under the “Food for Florida” program that is offering help to people who lost wages, food or suffered other financial hardships due to Hurricane Irma.

“We ended up spending basically everything we had just to make sure our house was secure and we had supplies to last. After the storm, work was really slow, because I’m basically self employed,” said Miller.

The program is designed to help people who are living paycheck to paycheck, but on Friday, a number of people could be seen driving up in Audi, Mercedes Benz and Lexus vehicles.

The luxury cars in line were in the minority, but a spokesperson for the Department of Children and Families who is running the program says they have an entire unit set up to detect fraud.

“Just because someone walks out after the application process with an EBT card doesn’t mean they will receive benefits,” said Natalie Harrell with the Department of Children and Families.

DCF also runs audits after benefits have been awarded to make sure people really have losses and a level of income that qualifies them for the program.

If someone lies on the application, they will be forced to repay the benefits. They could pay a fine and may be banned from other benefit programs for life.

Krystal Heredia came to apply for help with her husband after her employer suggested she could get help and gave her the day off to apply.

“She’s very helpful for her employees, so she suggested this for me because she knows I don’t get assistance, and so I’m eight months pregnant,” said Heredia.

The benefit center in Plant City closed Tuesday evening at 6:00 p.m. A new center will open to begin taking applications for assistance in Sarasota on Friday.

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