TennCare is by far Tennessee’s largest entitlement program in terms of caseload and cost to the state.
This, according to a new report from the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free market think tank.
Beacon reported the use of other benefits like Tennessee’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, however, have gone down since the Great Recession ended.
“Shelby County represents the largest caseload size across all three support programs: 22 percent of the SNAP caseload, 23.3 percent of the TANF caseload, and 17 percent of the TennCare caseload,” according to the report, titled Poverty to Prosperity: Reforming Tennessee’s Public Assistance Programs.
“Over 85 percent of all individuals enrolled in all three support programs live in an urban area. In fact, 40 percent of SNAP recipients, 43.5 percent of TANF recipients, and 37 percent of TennCare enrollees live in one of the big four counties: Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Shelby.”
Beacon’s report goes on to say approximately 287,000 working age adults who are not elderly or disabled currently receive SNAP benefits in Tennessee.
“There are not many state options for changing eligibility or administration of the SNAP program because it is primarily mandated at the federal level. However, Tennessee still has a waiver of work requirements for able bodied adults without dependents in place for seven counties despite low unemployment,” according to the report.
“The counties where work requirements are waived in Tennessee are Bledsoe, Hancock, Jackson, Lake, Lauderdale, McNairy, and Scott. It is recommended that the waiver be removed and work requirements be reinstated for able bodied adults without dependents in these counties in the next year.”
Tennessee officials, meanwhile, should rethink the way it spends its TANF dollars and lead with programs that support work and education opportunities. The TANF reserve balance has ballooned to over $732 million in 2019, and the state is only spending $71 million of its $190.9 million annual block grant, the report said.
Beacon also suggested that TennCare should request waivers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to expand telemedicine opportunities in rural areas.
“Tennessee should invest in pilot projects focused on poverty in Shelby County and opportunities to provide more supportive wrap around services for working age adults that need childcare, transportation, education, and employment training services,” according to Beacon. “Successfully partnering with families in Shelby County to tip the scale in their favor to move from poverty to prosperity would have the single greatest economic impact for the state’s systems of support.”
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