There was a time when pride got in the way of South Florida Caribbean residents accepting public assistance such as food stamps, Medicaid and public or subsidized housing. In the past, Caribbean residents who received the old food stamp coupon book were embarrassed to present these vouchers to shop keepers, fearing they would be recognized as impoverished.
In the early to mid 1990s many of these recipients would sell their food stamp coupons designated in monetary units - $20, $10, etc, at a discount in order to receive the cash rather than present the coupons in supermarkets.
In 2008 the name of the program was changed to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the coupons replaced with an electronic card. With these changes some of the reservations Caribbean folks had for using food stamps dissipated. The more recent method makes it seem they are paying for food items with a credit, or bank debit card.
The impact of the Great Recession of 2008/2009 has erased the stigma that most Caribbean folks had when applying for and using food stamps. Since 2008 food stamps have been of great assistance to all classes of South Floridians in financial strain because of unemployment or reduced income.
A recent report indicated the number of recipients of food stamps has risen to record levels in South Florida, despite a significant fall in the region's unemployment rate from 9.1 percent in July, 2012 to 7.4 last July. Food stamp recipients increased by 6.3 percent in Palm Beach County, 4.5 percent in Broward County, and an estimated 7 percent in Miami-Dade.
The average increase (5.9 percent) of food stamp recipients in South Florida is much higher than Florida's 3.8 percent.
There have been reports of many formerly middle income South Florida Caribbean residents joining other Floridians seeking food stamps to supplement depleted incomes. However, many of these applicants, several older than age 50, have been denied as the state gives preference to applicants with dependent children, and little or no assets. Still, according to Priscilla, a social worker in Broward County, "significantly more Caribbean- Americans are now recipients of food stamps compared to 1995, and before the economic down turn in 2008."
Priscilla said most Caribbean- American recipients are ether unemployed or partially unemployed with net monthly household incomes less than the federal poverty guidelines. For a family of two this is an annual income of $15,510 and for a family of four, $23,550. She said, the increase in food stamps in the region would have been much larger, were it not for the verification process to determine citizens and qualified non-citizens.
A Department of Children and Families (DCF) staffer in Miami said there's "absolutely no reservation" with people of all ethnicities, and classes seeking food stamps. "People, have had their income depleted, and receiving food stamps, if it's even $50 a month, that means more nutritious meals for themselves and their family." She also said, without the strict eligibility guidelines, the issuing of food stamps would be much higher. "Based on the persistent demand from people in genuine need, there's no reservation in South Floridians applying for or using food stamps, but we can only help the neediest."