MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Big changes to the food stamp program could leave Tennessee families without food for weeks.
More Americans are on food stamps than ever before. In Shelby County, the number is more than double any other county in Tennessee. The state is changing its distribution schedule, and the new schedule will put many families in a food bind.
The Tennessee grocers and convenience store association asked that benefit distributions be staggered to help with grocery availability. For the first month that means families will need to stretch what they already have.
Marvin Johnson is one of more than 270,000 Shelby County residents who use food stamps. "Look at it, it's 100 degrees out here and people standing in long lines and everybody's not going to get food." Johnson says, "So some kids are going to go unfed for the night."
Like nearly a quarter of Shelby County residents, Johnson relies food stamps. He says, "The system is already backed up and complicated."
Now Johnson says, Tennessee is putting the people who really need them in a bind. "They try to live from one month to the next," Johnson asks, "So how are they able to now? They have to improvise to how they would be able to feed their kids."
Starting October 1, 2012, Tennesseans who receive payments from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) may see a delay in their benefits. They will now be distributed by the last two digits of their social security number. That means those who rely on the payment at the first of the month may have to wait, sometimes weeks, to get their first payment for food.
Terrell Samuels only has a two day delay. "That could be a hardship, I'm thankful I'm not, but for others I only hope and pray it works out for them," he says.
Johnson's concerned food pantries won't have enough donations to accommodate thousands of Shelby County residents who run out of food. "It's going to be a real dangerous situation." Johnson says, "You have drug problems out here and so many other things out here and now you have people that will have to improvise. You have some that will go to a level where they have to do extreme measures because as a Mom, you're going to feed your kids. You have to pray to God and hope these programs don't run out."
After the initial change in October benefits will go back to every 30 days.
Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi all saw an increase in food stamp distribution since last year.
Grocers are asked to donate to local food banks and churches to accommodate those who may need more food during the extended distribution period.