JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This year in Jacksonville, one thousand more families will need food stamps than last year.
A 113% increase.
The Florida Department of Children and Families is tasked with helping those families put food on the table, and get back on their feet.
But the pressure to get it all done, and fast, has changed the way DCF does things.
Working at the food stamp processing center in Jacksonville isn't for the faint of heart.
From open to close they're packed, with more than 400 clients a day coming in to apply and interview for public assistance.
Employees work at a breakneck pace to try and satisfy the need.
"Things are changing, and you have to be flexible and adaptable, and move with the times, change with the times!" said Yvette Burch.
Burch is the director of the program, and has worked at DCF for 30 years. She says the program has changed drastically since she started in 1981.
"A lot of times now in this public access environment, we're no longer social workers. We have to get them in to the mindset that you can help people, but you have to help them quicker."
How quick? 7 minutes.
From the time a client walks in to when they're denied or approved for assistance has decreased dramatically. Interviews used to take 2 hours and included a home visit.
Now clients are shuffled in to a back room and processed before the next one comes in.
"We're like Dragnet -- just the facts man, just the facts!! Because we do have so many people waiting."
Burch said the crush of people who need help are the reason for the change in both strategy and philosophy at the department.
The Food Stamp Assistance program used to be the starting point for people who needed help, or a sympathetic ear ... now, they just don't have time.
3.5 million people in Florida get assistance from the program, and that number grows every day. And to help the people who need it, Burch and her team have weed out the people who don't.
"Figuring out who is telling the truth and who is not is a hard job. You have to verify as much information as you can and take it and run with it," Burch said.
DCF said their fraud investigators in Northeast Florida saved taxpayers $8.2 million dollars last year alone by recovering money from people who tried to rip off the system. But they can't stop everybody.
"Everyday, everyday. Fraud happens everyday," Burch said.
Investigators just recently broke up a criminal ring that was using prisoners' personal information to get fraudulent benefits. Turns out it was their taste in music that got them caught.
"Wilson Pickett had an old song, 634-5789, you'll see that, you'll see that number," said Burch.
DCF says only a small percentage of total claims are fraudulent, and typically it's people exaggerating their need to get more assistance. But Burch said that's the exception.
"People are not just here frauding, or lying. There are people out there truly in need. I don't think John Q. Public really understands that."
If you think your family may need assistance, here are the guidelines. For a family of 4, you have to earn less than $1,900 a month.
If you plan to apply, make sure before you go, that you have proper ID, proof of income and employment.
To find out if you're eligible or apply online, click here.
First Coast News