Tennessee Bucks Trend As Fewer Residents Receive Food Stamps

Although inflation and a looming recession have combined to create financial insecurity in households across the United States, that has not necessarily led to a spike in government assistance.

In fact, Tennessee has seen a substantial dip in the share of its citizens who are receiving food stamps. According to federal government data, the current number of state residents enrolled in the program is lower than it has been in nearly 20 years.

As of August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicated that 786,502 Tennesseeans were receiving benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. At its peak in 2013, that number was nearly twice as high at about 1.35 million.

About a year after COVID-19 began to spread, there was a spike in food stamp enrollment that resulted in nearly 913,000 Tennessee residents signing up for assistance.

Meanwhile, the per-person cost of SNAP assistance has also been trending downward, dropping from $256.66 last December to just $166.82 the following month. That decrease was in part due to the fact that Republican Gov. Bill Lee let a pandemic-related state of emergency expire about a year ago.

Additionally, Tennessee implemented strict work requirements associated with enrollment in government benefits, which require able-bodied residents between the ages of 16 and 59 to “register for work, participate in the Employment & Training Program if offered, accept offers of employment” and remain employed upon receiving a job.

The state regulation enacted earlier this year also puts a cap on the amount of assistance most adults without dependents may receive within any three-year period.

Republican State Sen. Jack Johnson sponsored the legislation and defended the work requirements prior to the bill’s passage.

“We know we have a tremendous workforce shortage in the state and in the nation,” he said at the time. “We need people who can, and are able, to get back to work. We don’t need to be providing incentives for people not to work.”

Elsewhere across the country, trends have been heading in the opposite direction. In Illinois, the number of SNAP enrollees increased by more than 5% between August 2021 and August 2022. During the same period, the per-person cost of the program grew by about $30 to exceed $250.