150,000 Tennesseans could lose food stamps

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An estimated 150,000 Tennesseans could lose food stamp benefits on April 1 if they don’t meet work requirements that were waived for several years because of the Great Recession.

Tennessee Department of Human Services spokeswoman Stephanie Jarnagin said the agency began sending out notices earlier this winter to people who could lose benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the federal program is officially known.

The program requires able-bodied adults ages 18 through 49 who have no children or other dependents at home to work, volunteer or attend education or job-training courses at least 80 hours a month. If they don’t, their benefits are cut off after three months.

The work requirement was waived during the recession but the waiver ended in at least 21 states, including Tennessee, on Jan. 1. That triggered the three-month limit for recipients to comply with work requirements. If they don’t, they lose their food stamps on April 1.

Officials at several social services agencies in Tennessee said they either weren’t aware of the change or didn’t know whether they had clients who would be affected.

Terry Work, the founder of Helping Hands of Hickman County, said she wasn’t aware of the change even though her 27-year-old son is one of those affected. He received a letter saying he would lose his food stamps on April 1, but Work said she didn’t know it was part of a bigger change affecting more than 1 million low-income Americans around the country.

Work said her son is deaf but because he was denied disability payments, he is considered able-bodied and required to work.

“Nobody will hire him,” Work said. “They’re not supposed to discriminate, but they find ways around it.”

Meanwhile, officials with the state’s largest food bank said they needed more details from the Department of Human Services before they can start planning to increase capacity.

Kim Molnar is the senior vice president of programs at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, which works with over 450 partner agencies in 46 counties to provide food to the needy.

“We’re kind of waiting to hear the numbers … the number of people affected and in which counties, so we can prepare,” Molnar said.