Learn More: Household Receiving Public Assistance

What does this mean?

Public Assistance is financial assistance paid by the government to certain individuals, families, or groups of people who are unable to support themselves alone, or are perceived by the government to be able to function more effectively with financial assistance. Public Assistance provides financial aid or food benefits to low-income households. The amount a household receives each month typically depends on the household's income and size.

In Florida, the Department of Children and Families, ACCESS Florida Program has several programs that can help Florida families. They include Food Stamps, Temporary Cash Assistance, Medicaid and Refugee Assistance. Each of these programs has its own eligibility rules, but one may apply for any (or all) of these programs at one time using the same application.

The key mandates for ACCESS (Automated Community Connection to Economic Self-Sufficiency) are to protect the vulnerable, promote strong and economically self-sufficient families, and advance personal and family recovery and resiliency. DCF describes ACCESS as a newly retooled and modernized public assistance service delivery system that provides enhanced access to services through a combination of state staff and a community partnership network. The programs offer self-directed opportunities and 24/7 service through a web application and an automated response system, thus reducing the investment of time required by customers to apply for and continue receiving public assistance. The two most basic benefit programs (Cash Assistance and Food Stamps) are described briefly below.

The Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) program provides cash assistance to families with children under the age of 18 or under age 19 if full time secondary (high school) school students, that meet the technical, income, and asset requirements. The program helps families become self-supporting while allowing children to remain in their own homes. Pregnant women may also receive TCA, either in the third trimester of pregnancy if unable to work, or in the 9th month of pregnancy. Parents, children and minor siblings who live together must apply together.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program) helps people with low-income, buy healthy food. A food stamp household is normally a group of people who live together and buy food and cook meals together. If your household passes the Food Stamp Program's eligibility rules, the amount of food stamp benefits you get depends on the number of people in your household and how much money is left after certain expenses are subtracted.

Why is it important?

Before 1996, United States public assistance for households with children was called Aid to Dependent Children, and later renamed Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). In 1996 as part of welfare reform, AFDC was replaced by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which included more limits on the amount of time an individual or family could receive public assistance. In 1996, the US federal government passed welfare reform legislation. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) dramatically altered the circumstances under which families could receive public assistance, limiting receipt to five years requiring work after twenty-four months, and allowing states to impose sanctions and other requirements such as family caps.

The old welfare system was often criticized for granting benefits to people who didn't deserve them and should have been working instead. But critics of the new system contend that it creates a very real possibility that people who do deserve assistance will be denied it. And because most public assistance goes to families, many of the victims would inevitably be children.

Supporters of the recent changes in welfare maintain that they will be good for the poor, bringing many of them out of subsidized poverty and into the world of work. Critics, however, claim that getting the vast majority of welfare recipients into jobs will be difficult because two thirds of welfare recipients are either on assistance only for a short time, or on-and-off, while the remaining third have been unaffected by prior attempts to find them lasting work. For some, the problems are potentially addressable, such as lack of child care or transportation. For others, such as those who have never held a job, the problems such as poor health or lack of skills are more difficult to address.

In the United States, public assistance is normally given to households with children, often headed by single mothers and even these households have only been able to access benefits for a maximum of five years per lifetime of the adult recipient since 1996. Evidence from one study suggests that single mothers in central cities and remote-rural areas face some common barriers to entering the paid workforce and moving out of poverty, including lack of available jobs, transportation and available child care. The study found that single mothers in cities and remote rural areas were more likely to receive public assistance, had higher poverty rates, and had lower earnings than their counterparts in suburban and metro-adjacent rural areas. Other studies have shown associations between public assistance and poverty and children's outcomes. Receiving public assistance is often negatively correlated with children's cognitive and behavioral outcomes.

How are the data collected (methods)?

In Florida, these data are regularly collected and maintained by the State's Department of Children and Families.

Caveats and Limitations


Frequently Asked Questions

ACCESS Florida Food, Medical Assistance and Cash

  1. What types of help does DCF offer?
  2. How do I apply?
  3. How long will it take to complete an application?
  4. What happens next?
  5. What happens after I turn in all my papers?
  6. How long will it take?
  7. How can I check on my application?
  8. What happens after I am approved?
  9. Are there any other places I can go to for help?

1. What types of Help does DCF Offer?

The Department of Children and Families, ACCESS Florida Program has several programs that can help Florida families. They include, Food Stamps, Temporary Cash Assistance, Medicaid and Refugee Assistance.

Each of these programs has its own eligibility rules, but you may apply for any (or all) of these programs at one time using the same application.

2. How do I apply?

Families that need help with their food, financial or medical needs may apply for assistance:

From any computer with an internet connection at: www.myflorida.com/accessflorida/.

At one of the Department of Children and Families ACCESS Florida community partners. A listing of community partners can be found online at: //www.dcf.state.fl.us/access/CPSLookup/search.aspx.

At a Department of Children and Families ACCESS Florida Customer Service Center. A listing of Customer Service Centers can be found online at: www.dcf.state.fl.us/regions/.

3. How long will it take to complete an application?

On average, it takes about 30 minutes for most of our customers to complete the on-line application. Once you finish filling out the application, you may submit it to DCF automatically by using our e-signature option. You can also print and complete a paper version of the application. Once you complete the paper application, you can mail, fax or take it to any ACCESS Florida customer service center.

4. What happens next?

Once we have received your application, we will check it to see if we need to interview you and if we need verification of anything you reported on your application. Not all programs require an interview, and most interviews can be done over the phone.

We will let you know if an interview is needed and a date for the interview.

Applications for the Food Stamp and Temporary Cash Assistance Programs usually require an interview Most interviews take less than 15 minutes. We may need to ask you to give us proof of things you reported on your application, or told us during your interview. The most common things we may ask you to prove include:

  • Income from a job (pay stubs or a letter from you employer)
  • Income from another person
  • U.S. citizenship AND identity for all individuals applying for medical assistance

5. What happens after I turn in all my papers?

Once you have turned in everything we asked for, we will review your application and see how we can help you. We will send you a letter that will tell you what programs you are eligible for, how much your payments will be, and when they will begin. If you are not eligible for a program for which you applied, we will send you a letter telling you the reason you are not eligible.

6. How long will it take?

Each case is different, but we finish most food stamp applications in less than 30 days and we finish most Medicaid and Temporary Cash Assistance applications in less than 45 days.

7. How can I check on my application?

If you have access to a computer, you can check on your application online. Once you have turned in your application, you can set up an account with the ACCESS Florida Program. This account, called My ACCESS Account, allows you to check on your case 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some of the things you can do from My ACCESS Account include:

  • Check the status of your application
  • See the amount of your food stamp and cash assistance benefits (once approved)
  • See when your next review is due
  • See the date and time of a scheduled appointment
  • See a list of items you need to return
  • Print a temporary Medicaid card (once approved)

Click here to get more information about or sign up for My ACCESS Account.

You may also check on your case by calling our Customer Call Center at 1-866-76ACCES or 1-866-762-2237. Calling this number will allow you to

  • Get your case status
  • Get a list of items you need to return
  • Get the date and time for a scheduled appointment
  • Get general information
  • Speak to a customer service agent

8. What happens after I am approved?

Most cases are approved for either 6 or 12 months. We will send you a letter telling you what to do when it is time for us to review your case.

If you are applying for cash or food assistance the first time, you will receive your EBT card in the mail with instructions on how to use it once your case is approved.

If you have received benefits in the past and still have your EBT card, you can still use that card as long as your case number stays the same.

If you are reapplying for benefits and no longer have your EBT card, please call EBT Customer Service anytime at 1-888-356-3281 to get a replacement card. Another EBT card will not automatically be mailed to you once your case is approved.

It takes approximately 2-3 weeks to get a Medicaid card after your case is approved. If you need proof of your Medicaid eligibility right away, you can print a temporary card at: www.myflorida.com/accessflorida/.

Your gold plastic card is your permanent Medicaid ID. If your Medicaid eligibility stops, keep the card. If you become eligible again, then you will be able to use the same ID card.

9. Are there any other places I can go to for help?

More services are available to you from other agencies. Click here to see a list of other state and federal programs you may find helpful.

Additional Information

  • Access Florida - Dept. of Children and Families - Online public assistance service delivery system that has information on obtaining food stamps, temporary cash assistance, medicaid, etc. along with applications.
  • Child Welfare League of America
  • Moore, K. A., D. A. Glej, A. K. Driscoll, M. J. Zaslow & Z. Redd. (2002). Poverty and Welfare Patterns: Implications for Children. Journal of Social Policy, 31, 207-227.
  • National Low Income Housing Coalition - Provides information relating to low-income housing through issues & alerts, publications, research data results including the “Out of Reach” Report documenting the ‘housing wages’ needed to afford housing in communities throughout the nation.