Number of Tennessee residents on food stamps hits 19-year low

The cost of the federal program has also dropped significantly.

Updated: November 26, 2022 - 5:15am

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The number of individuals receiving food stamps in Tennessee has dropped to the lowest levels since November 2003, according to data released by the federal government.

There were 786,502 people receiving food assistance in Tennessee in August 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which recently updated its data on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

By comparison, in the wake of the recession of 2009, the number of people on food stamps in Tennessee reached as high as 1.35 million in the spring and summer of 2013. The number of people on food stamps peaked during the pandemic at 912,733 in January 2021.

The cost of the federal program has also dropped significantly. The monthly cost was $117.88 per person in August 2022 after peaking during the pandemic a year earlier at $336.18 per person in August 2021.

The state of Tennessee has updated its data on SNAP participation through October. The number of individuals on SNAP reached 793,968 that month.

Gov. Bill Lee did not renew a COVID-19 state of emergency in November 2021, which had been in effect for 20 months. Additional emergency SNAP benefits authorized by the federal government ended Dec. 31. The SNAP benefits cost per person was $256.66 in December and dropped in January to $166.82.

The state's unemployment rate during the pandemic peaked at 15.9% in April 2020 and dropped to 3.4% as of September 2022.

Tennessee's lower participation in SNAP bucks trends seen in other states. For example, Illinois has had about 2 million people on food stamps in 2021 and 2022 and that state's SNAP cost per person has increased from $220.04 in August 2021 to $250.03 in August 2022.

Lee also signed a law that took effect in May that added a work requirement to receive food assistance.

According to the Department of Human Services, "... most able-bodied people between 16 and 59 years old must register for work, participate in the Employment & Training Program if offered, accept offers of employment, and cannot quit a job. Able-bodied adults without dependents aged 18 to 49 can receive only a limited number of benefit months in 3 years, unless working 80 hours per month or otherwise determined exempt from the rule."

College students, in general, must be working an average of 20 hours per week to be eligible for food assistance, according to the state.

The number of households receiving food assistance in Tennessee has dropped to the lowest levels since December 2007.

There were 398,078 households receiving SNAP benefits in August 2022. It was the first time in 15 years the number of households on food stamps had dropped below 400,000.

State Sen. Jack Johnson's office and the Tennessee Department of Human Services didn't respond to an email seeking comment prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.