Food stamp work requirement to return for most of Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam is reinstating food stamp work requirements for most Tennessee counties starting Feb. 1.

Haslam said Monday that Tennessee will re-establish federal work requirements in 70 counties for able-bodied adults without dependents who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

That requirement was waived in 2008 amid the recession. It won't be reinstated for 16 economically distressed counties: Bledsoe, Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Fentress, Grundy, Hancock, Hardeman, Haywood, Lake, Lauderdale, McNairy, Perry, Scott, Van Buren and Wayne.

Currently, the work requirement is in place in nine counties, including seven in the Nashville area.

Haslam says it's now difficult to justify the waiver amid record-low unemployment rates and substantial job growth. The governor's office says other states have similarly restored work requirements.

The change affects 58,000 of about 1 million Tennesseans on food stamps.

The administration says Haslam also will propose legislative changes to reduce welfare fraud, waste and abuse.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, who represents the 9th District in Memphis, said he's waiting on more details about how the new policy will be implemented, but fears that it will cause more Memphians to go hungry.

"According to the most recent census data, the Memphis metro area has the highest poverty rate of metro areas with at least one million people," Cohen said. "We need to be making nutrition assistance more available, not less.”