In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic -that is on its way to end, but not there yet-, Tennessee’s families are facing yet another blow from their own government. The state’s SNAP program, meant to aid struggling households, has turned into a bureaucratic situation that is leaving families in a state of utter despair. The Tennessee Justice Center (TJC), a nonprofit legal organization, has reported that the state’s unskillfulness has resulted in thousands of dollars of overpayment to families who are now being forced to pay back the funds.
These families, who were already struggling to make ends meet, are now drowning in debt. Some of them have been ordered to repay up to $9,000 of their SNAP benefits, a sum that they have no hope of paying back anytime soon. The gravity of the situation cannot be overstated. Families are struggling to put food on the table, and now they are being forced to repay funds that were meant to help them during the pandemic. It is a heart-wrenching and hopeless situation that is pushing families into a corner.
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The state’s Department of Human Services has remained unresponsive to inquiries about the matter by local media, leaving families in the dark about what to do next. The government’s lack of action is further compounding the problem, with families unsure of how to proceed or what their future holds. In the face of this bureaucratic turmoil, families are being punished for the state’s mistakes, and they are left to struggle on their own with little to no support.
The exact number of families impacted has still not being clarified by the state’s authorities. “The bottom line to really know is that no one can get SNAP benefits unless the state agency approves them, so every single one of these cases were cases that the state agency had originally approved,” nutrition client advocate with TJC, Anna Luttrell, said.
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“This is so extreme because we had this policy change that was meant to help families, and now it’s causing this really, really bad unintended consequences where we’ve worked with families that are 8-thousand or 9-thousand dollars in debt right now,” Luttrell added.
For now, it is also unclear what the mechanism or procedure will be by which families who received overpayments should return the money to the state coffers. It is advisable for SNAP beneficiaries to contact their local government, in order to determine if they’re impacted and how much money do they owe back.
However, despite its importance, SNAP continues to face challenges, including stigma, funding cuts, and administrative hurdles that make it difficult for some families to access benefits.