The Gallatin News
Food Stamps and Food Insecurity
“There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
-- Mahatma Gandhi, political and spiritual leader of India (1869-1948)
Most Americans have enough to eat, yet many adults – and even more children – are “food insecure.” This term came into use about 6 years ago when a 2006 U.S.D.A. executive summary explained that the term “hunger” was “politically sensitive” and scientifically difficult to measure.
Some current proposals to slash federal spending would include cutting funding for food stamps. The nation’s food stamp program is presently still intact along with its ongoing goal to alleviate hunger and malnutrition.
Q. What does “food insecure” mean?
According to the U.S.D.A., food insecure persons don’t have adequate food to meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources. Food insecurity means that a family does not have access at all times to adequate food for an active, healthy life.
Q. Is there much “food insecurity” in Tennessee?
Yes. The recent report issued in March 2011 by the Food Research and Action Center shows that Tennessee is the ninth worst state in the U.S. in terms of food insecurity.
The FRAC report shows that in Tennessee, an average of 22.8 percent of all Tennesseans (above the U.S. average of about 18 percent) experienced food insecurity during 2010.
The rate of food insecurity for households with children in Tennessee is an even higher 28.8 percent -- 10th worst among the nation’s states. Summer is an especially difficult time, when many school-age kids have no access to school meal programs.
With a state population of 6.296 million as reported by the U.S. Census in November 2010, this means 1,435,400 Tennesseans live in food insecurity – and many of those are children. For many of these families, food stamps are essential.
Q. What are food stamps?
Food stamps help eligible persons buy most food in grocery stores. They cannot be used to buy soap or cleaning supplies, beer, diapers, or pet food.
The U.S. government pays for the food stamps program. Many persons who are eligible for food stamps don’t apply. Tennessee wants to get eligible persons the help they need.
Q. Who manages the Tennessee food stamps program?
The DHS (Department of Human Services) has an office in every Tennessee county. Each office issues and accepts food stamp applications. DHS staff members can help fill out applications.
Q. Who can apply for food stamps in Tennessee?
Anyone can apply – whether working or not, whether they have children or not, and whether they have a home or are homeless. Their income and savings must be below a certain amount, but certain deductions can make them eligible. Applicants must live in Tennessee and must be U.S. citizens or eligible legal immigrants. Some legal aliens cannot get food stamps.
Q. Are there work requirements to be eligible for food stamps?
Yes. Applicants who are able-bodied and between 16 and 59 years old must register for work, must participate in the Employment and Training Program if offered, must accept offers of employment, and cannot quit a job. DHS does not apply this work rule to adults who are disabled.
Q. Can a student get food stamps?
Maybe. Students must be between 18 and 49 and must be enrolled at least half-time in a college, university, or vocational or technical school. To be eligible, college students must be working 20 hours per week, or enrolled in work-study, or caring for young dependents, or receiving Families First assistance.
Q. How can a person find out if he or she can get food stamps?
To apply, persons should go to the local DHS office. The Family Assistance Help Line at 1-888-863-6178 has the phone number of the nearest office. It’s a free call.
James B. (Jim) Hawkins is a general practice and public interest law attorney based in Gallatin. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case.