Written by Mary Grace Stoneking
SNAP Community Outreach Advocate, Legal Aid Society
Nashville, TN – Chances are, if you live in Tennessee, you probably know somebody who currently benefits, or who has benefited in the past, from the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) is used by more than 1 million people in Tennessee — a state with fewer than 7 million total residents.
That means more than 1 out of 7 residents depend on this program to keep food on the table as they keep up with other essential living expenses.
As we reflect on our own blessings this holiday season, that figure is an eye-opening one that should give us all pause.
Benefits go to residents whose income is below an established threshold — a situation that can apply to working families, the elderly, the disabled and the unemployed, among others.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2016, 107,000 of Tennessee’s SNAP recipients were seniors, very few of whom likely know they can deduct medical costs in order to receive more SNAP benefits. Around 467,000 children in Tennessee were on SNAP in 2016, without which they would be less likely to receive adequate nutrition and food.
SNAP delivers more nutrition assistance to low-income children than any other federal program, making it the United States’ largest child nutrition program, according to a 2016 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report. Despite providing an average of just $1.35 per person per meal for households with children, the small boost it gives families is enough to bring them over the poverty line into a basic level of stability.
Despite the clear need for this assistance, there is often confusion surrounding how SNAP works. Many Tennesseans don’t know their legal rights when it comes to the program — such as when they qualify, how to apply, or if they are receiving the correct amount. Some have even had their SNAP benefits wrongfully terminated or reduced.
It’s a terrible feeling to not know where to seek help for such a fundamental need. As a result, some of our fellow Tennesseans do not have sufficient food for their families, oftentimes choosing between having a meal or being able to pay for rent.
This is why Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has started its new SNAP Outreach Program to inform and educate our state’s most vulnerable populations of their rights when it comes to SNAP. By contacting us, these residents can ensure they are getting the level of SNAP benefits they are entitled to, as well as resolve issues surrounding benefits that have been unexpectedly cut off or cut back.
This new program is funded by MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. MAZON is a national advocacy organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. MAZON is enabling Legal Aid Society to more effectively provide advocacy for those who experience food insecurity.
All it takes to get the process started is a phone call.
Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands provides assistance on SNAP and other civil legal matters to eligible residents across 48 counties in Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau. Call 1.800.238.1443 to learn more.
About Mary Grace Stoneking
Mary Grace Stoneking joined Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands in August 2018 as its new SNAP Community Outreach Advocate. Before her new position at Legal Aid, she served with FoodCorps for two years, building garden and nutrition programs in low-income elementary schools in Arkansas. She is a 2016 graduate from Rhodes College in Memphis, where she worked with GrowMemphis building gardens in blighted communities of Memphis, and was also a member of the Food Advisory Council of Shelby County.
About Legal Aid Society
Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands advocates for fairness and justice under the law. The non-profit law firm offers free civil legal representation and educational programs to help people in its region receive justice, protect their well-being and support opportunities to overcome poverty. It serves 48 counties from offices in Clarksville, Columbia, Cookeville, Gallatin, Murfreesboro, Nashville, Oak Ridge and Tullahoma. Legal Aid Society is funded in part by United Way.