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Report: Improved Economy Means Fewer in Need of Food Assistance

New data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates slightly fewer Americans are in need of food assistance, and the agency attributes the shift to an improving economy. (melodi/morguefile.com)
New data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates slightly fewer Americans are in need of food assistance, and the agency attributes the shift to an improving economy. (melodi/morguefile.com)
March 23, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - More than 19 percent of Tennesseans receive government food assistance, but a report released by the United States Department of Agriculture looked at national data and found there was a slight decrease in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment.

According to the report, nationwide two percent less in 2015 participated in SNAP.

Report author and economist Victor Oliveira attributes his findings to one key factor.

"The economy has been improving in recent years," he says. "And during economic growth periods when the unemployment rate is low, that means fewer people are going to be eligible."

According to state data, as of February 2016 there were 553,000 Tennessee households receiving SNAP benefits, about 50,000 less than the same time last year.

While finding a job may be easier for some in the state, a change in SNAP benefits in several states, including Tennessee, requires that food-stamp recipients must prove they're working, volunteering or taking classes at least 20 hours a week.

The requirement applies to people under 50 without children and will be implemented statewide starting in April.

The number of people in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) also saw a decrease for the fifth consecutive year, explains Oliveira.

"It's heavily tied to the birth rate," he says. "And in recent years the number of births in this country has been decreasing, so therefore the pool of potential people to participate in the program has been shrinking."

Tennessee's unemployment rate is 4.9 percent according to the latest numbers released from the state's Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

According to the Census data, 18 percent of the state's population lives in poverty and at least 27 percent of the state's children remains in poverty.

Stephanie Carson/Judy Steffes, Public News Service - TN