Food stamps make the difference for countless families across Tennessee, but a change could cause a big problem for most of them.
The state plans to double the time it uses to hand out the benefit, and the first time it does so - next month - most recipients will be left waiting for their money.
In August, the state handed out $177 million worth of food stamps, so a plan to spread that out, and spread out the rush at stores, means a one-time change in October that might - at least for a few days - leave some families in need.
"Every year, it's gotten to be more of an issue," said Jarron Springer, with the Tennessee Grocers Association.
Every month, food stamps keep tens of thousands of families afloat. It makes for big business at stores, but Springer said it also makes for an increasing problem.
"That money tends to spent very quickly once they receive it. It comes into our stores in the first 10 days of the month," Springer said. "And then it decreases at the end of the month, an equivocal amount."
Currently, the state hands out food stamp benefits - known as SNAP - during the first 10 days of the month. But beginning in October, that will change to the first 20 days.
According to the state, some 31,000 recipients won't see a delay, but many more - an estimated 185,000 - will get their food stamps one to three days late in October.
An additional 245,000 will have to wait an extra four to seven days.
And another 153,000 Tennesseans will have to wait the longest - an extra eight to 10 days.
All of it is tied to the recipient's Social Security number - the higher the last two digits, the longer the delay.
"Ultimately, this is a great change for everyone across the board," Springer said. "Some stores will open up 24 hours a day at the beginning of the month, because those recipients are coming at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning to ensure they get the products they want because the shelf might be empty at 4 in the afternoon."
The state told recipients about the change in early August, but there seems to be a real concern some families did not get the message.
The state grocers association will work with local food banks to ramp up supplies in advance of the change, just in case.
Also, Tennessee won't be the only state making a change. Currently, the federal government wants wider reform to even out food stamp distributions nationwide.
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