welfare

Haslam proposes 20% increase in welfare benefits

Besides requiring work for more food stamp recipients, Gov. Haslam is also proposing to increase welfare benefit payments for the first time since 1996, reports the Times Free Press.

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Haslam pushes more work for welfare recipients

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Danielle W. Barnes today announced plans to reinstate the federal work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that was waived in 2008 during the economic recession. With the state’s record low unemployment rates and significant job growth, the waiver is no longer needed across most of the state – but will remain in place in 16 counties designated as economically distressed.

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House votes to expand checks of income for those on TennCare, welfare

Hundreds of thousands of Tennessee adults who are receive TennCare coverage, food stamps and/or welfare will face enhanced income-verification process that regularly checks their incomes against other state and federal databases under a bill that cleared the state House Monday night, reports the Times-Free Press.

The GOP-majority House approved the measure (HB227), sponsored by Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, on a largely partisan 73-21 vote.

Howell said the bill is intended to detect fraud and ensure benefits are going to those who truly need it while saving taxpayers money.

One feature of the legislation would require the Tennessee Education Lottery to send monthly data on all lottery players who win $5,000 or more jackpots to the state Human Services Department.

The department determines eligibility for TennCare (Medicaid), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (welfare) programs.

Democrats spent their time largely questioning the lottery-related impacts on families in which a parent or caretaker plays and wins larger lottery awards that could cost them their benefits.

Howell argued that lottery winners on state and federally-subsidized social programs are already supposed to self report and his bill simply ensures it’s properly done.

Speaking later with a reporter, Howell appeared a little surprised that no one got into the overall aspects of his bill, called the “Program Integrity Act of 2017.”

“That [cross checking lottery winner database] is just a small part of it,” Howell said. “What we’ve done is create enhanced verification.”

84 TN welfare applicants have failed drug tests since 2014

Tennessee started drug testing some applicants for welfare benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in 2014, in accord with a law approved by the Legislature two years earlier, and since then 84 people have failed the tests, administered at a cost of $38,934, reports WSMV-TV.

“Is this law working?” asked reporter Alanna Autler.

“I don’t know if it’s working the way it was written in the sense we’re being compliant with the way it’s written,” said Stephanie Jarnagin, with the Tennessee Department of Human Services. “But I don’t think it’s up for us to decide whether or not it’s good policy necessarily.”

… More than 54,835 people applied for TANF in Tennessee between when the law passed in 2014 and Dec. 31 of last year. During that same time period, 814 people were flagged to be drug tested. Of that pool, 84 people failed the drug test.

… Jarnagin said 167 people have abandoned the application process since 2014 when the law took effect. But she said DHS has no idea why people walk away, and the reasons could range from moving out of states to a change in financial circumstance.

… Failing a drug test doesn’t necessarily mean that applicants lose their shot at TANF benefits. The applicant can go through a drug treatment program, which they must pay for.

In the event the state does deny an applicant benefits, the cash assistance can still be given to the applicant’s family. In 16 cases, benefits were routed to children through a protected pay play, Jarnagin said.

Jarnagin added it’s inaccurate to think this law saves money since any denied benefits would go back to helping other recipients. She said currently there is neither a waiting list nor a backlog for benefits.

The report includes comments from House Majority Leader Glen Casada in support of the law and from Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro saying it needs to be reexamined and “maybe we need to go a different route.”

Rep. Butt drops bill to ban buying sweets with food stamps

News release from Rep. Shelia Butt

NASHVILLE, Jan. 17, 2017– Last week, State Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia) introduced legislation seeking a waiver from the federal government to change the way public assistance dollars are spent on food. Due to ongoing discussions regarding this very issue in the newly GOP controlled federal government under an incoming Trump administration, Butt is pulling the legislation in hopes of federal action.

“Last week I introduced a Bill, (HB43) for the Tennessee State Legislature to consider this sJession that, if enacted, would have limited the “junk food” or non-nutritional caloric foods that could be purchased with what we call SNAP (or food stamp) benefits on an EBT card. (Note: Previous post, somewhat expanded from the original version, is HERE.)

Just this past week the USDA published a detailed report showing that the number one item being bought with SNAP benefits are soft drinks,” said Butt. “The report shows that the No. one purchases by SNAP households are soft drinks, which account for 5% of the dollars they spend on food. The category of ‘sweetened beverages’ which includes sugar-added juices, energy drinks and sweetened teas, accounted for almost 10% of the dollars spent on food.”

“In this sense, SNAP is a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.

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Rep. Butt proposes ban on ice cream, cake for food stamp recipients

State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, proposes in HB43 to prohibit use of food stamps to purchase products “high in calories, sugar, and fat without any nutritional value, including, but not limited to, soda, ice cream, candy, cookies, and cake.”

The bill provides that those buying candy, cake and ice cream with government-provided funds be required to reimburse the state Department of Human Services. Businesses caught selling the unauthorized products in exchange for food stamps would face a $1,000 fine on first offense; $2,500 on second offense; $5,000 on third and subsequent offenses.

“We have so much obesity in this state that we can’t just sit around and do nothing,” Butt tells Cari Wade Gervin, who, well, doesn’t think very highly of the proposal. Her commentary, HERE, has the headline, “Sheila Butt to the Poor: Let them not eat cake.”

On her website, Butt has a post on her proposal HERE. An excerpt:

“I go into convenience stores almost every day and see the most non-nutritional foods on the counters and in the aisles marked ‘EBT Approved.’ These are the same foods that we have banned from our children’s lunchrooms,” said Butt. “By allowing their purchase with EBT cards, we are actually enhancing diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity in at-risk communities.”

Butt takes issue with the idea that taxpayers should be subsidizing unhealthy lifestyle choices for those on public assistance programs, which she says taxpayers end up footing the bill for on the back end as well.

“Taxpayers are supporting unhealthy lifestyle choices on the front end and up paying for resulting health care costs on the back end,” explained Butt. “This is very counterproductive, counterintuitive and costly.”

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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