Residents of Palm Beach County in Florida that were hoping to receive badly-needed relief in the form of food stamp cards following Hurricane Irma were left disappointed on Tuesday, as a designated recovery site was forced to close for the day after handing out all of its available SNAP cards less than three hours after opening for the day.
Tuesday marked the first day that residents deemed to have been impacted by the devastation Irma inflicted on the county, the northernmost of the three populous South Florida counties that represent approximately six million people combined. Palm Beach County consists of about 1.3 million residents, many of whom found themselves without power following Irma’s path through the Sunshine State.
The county intended to keep the site open from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m., but by 9:30 a.m., the main site at John Prince Park in Lake Worth, Fla., had already reached its capacity and police began turning away residents who had not yet reached the line, limiting assistance to those who were already in the line at that point. Those who were turned away were told to try again on Wednesday, when the county had planned to begin serving a different set of last names. Tuesday was designated as a day for those with last names between A and F, while Wednesday was originally planned for those between G and J. Residents had to register online for assistance and come to one of three sites in the county in person to receive their SNAP card after confirming eligibility.
In Delray Beach, police began turning people away as early as 5:30 a.m., 90 minutes before the site was supposed to open. In the process, they were forced to close off a public park to anyone besides foot traffic. Sites were designed to process as many as 3,500 county residents.
By 9:30, news had yet to reach drivers heading toward the sites, creating a traffic nightmare for county residents. On Lantana Road, the main road connecting drivers to the one spot where they could turn right into John Prince Park, the backup stretched as far as Interstate 95, a full mile away from Congress Avenue, the road that John Prince Park sits on.
Drivers heading away from the site didn’t fare much better, as the large amounts of people heading away from the site combined with drivers unaware of the situation and trying to turn around and head back toward the recovery site caused lengthy backups heading toward I-95.
Palm Beach County plans to run the sites for the remainder of the week, with hours scheduled for 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. at each site. However, Tuesday’s issues suggest that closing time for the other four days will be much earlier than that.