A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found 14 inmates earned more than $10,000 in food stamps, and most of that money has not been recovered.
"I think they're trying to manipulate the system. And we've caught them now, you all have caught them," said Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville.
The I-Team investigation found in 2012, the 14 inmates received $10,467 in food stamps and only $3,596 has been recovered by the state.
"People are trying to work the system," Tracy said.
Food stamps come in debit cards in Tennessee and the state puts money in people's accounts.
An investigator with the state department of human services said one inmate applied for food stamps and knowingly gave false information.
In the other 13 cases, a DHS spokeswoman said the 13 families who received the food stamps failed to tell the state that a member of their household had gone to jail.
"They are required to pay it back," said Benjamin Maxwell with the state Department of Human Services.
Maxwell said once a month, DHS runs the names of food stamp recipients through computer programs to indicate if they're in jail or prison.
If inmates get food stamps while behind bars, the state tries to get the money back.
"If you're committing fraud against the system, you're really hurting the ones who need these benefits," Tracy said.
Inmates in the Putnam and Robertson County jails were among those getting food stamps.
In the one case where the inmate was found to have given false information, a DHS spokeswoman said the case was not forwarded on to the district attorney because of the small dollar amount he was paid.
The spokeswoman said that inmate has made efforts to pay it back.
Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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