‘How are we going to feed our families?’: SNAP benefits expected to be backlogged for months

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Thousands of Tennessee families are hungry because of a new system with SNAP benefits or food stamps. State leaders said it may be another two months before everyone gets their money.

For almost three months, Amber Tucker did not have enough money to put food on her family’s table.

“Some nights, of course, I would just tell my fiancé and my daughter to eat and not really worry about myself because that’s what I feel like is important, but we shouldn’t have to do that,” Tucker, a SNAP benefits recipient, said.

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Tucker told News 2 she would call the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) and sit on hold for three hours, only to hear they were overwhelmed with applicants.

“You wait on the phone all that time for them to tell you nothing,” Tucker said. “So, of course, the process is wait on hold for another three hours, and, you know, how can they expect us to work and things like that, but yet we have to literally sit on the phone and wait three, four hours…to get through to y’all? And we can’t work if we’re having to do that, but I mean, how are we going to feed our families if we don’t have the extra money to buy food?”

In a health and welfare committee on Wednesday, Jan. 24, lawmakers discussed the next steps after months of SNAP benefits application backlogs.

By law, the turnaround time for the DHS is 30 days to certify or deny an application. However, about 35,000 pending applications are currently more than 30 days old, and thousands of new applications are submitted every day.

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DHS leaders blame a new system that was implemented from June through December, which they said increased wait times during the transition.

“That volume slowed down our regular application process, and really, if you would, it clogged the pipeline,” DHS Commissioner Clarence Carter said.

To help, DHS has deployed 1,400 employees from different divisions to conduct phone interviews with applicants.

“This program puts food on Tennesseans’ tables, and so we have almost a desperate sense of urgency to be able to do this right,” Carter said.

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The department is also hiring people and has shortened the six-month training for new employees to five weeks. However, they don’t expect the program to be entirely caught up for at least another two months.

Tucker said she has SNAP benefits now, but she knows just how difficult it is to have a family to provide for with no way to do so.

“It breaks my heart because I know the feeling that these other parents and things are feeling, you know, with not being able to provide the food and stuff that their child needs or that they need, and it’s just so sad because it’s a terrible feeling when you don’t know how you’re going to feed your kids that night,” Tucker said.

According to Tucker, her benefits will need to be renewed in June, but she plans to reapply as early as possible.

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