Haslam's SNAP decision a slap in the face to Memphis
I am deeply concerned about Governor Haslam’s decision to reintroduce work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in most Tennessee counties.
Those in Memphis who benefit from SNAP, many of whom are African American, rely on its financial assistance to feed themselves and their families. The governor’s announced change in policy will turn back time for Shelby County and make it harder to prevent some of our most vulnerable citizens from going hungry.
While Tennessee will continue to waive the work requirement for sixteen counties due to their economic distress, the economic stress of the City of Memphis is being overlooked.
There are, in essence, two Shelby Counties. The Poplar corridor from the Mississippi River to Germantown and Collierville is largely Caucasian and economically competitive. Other parts, such as North Memphis, South Memphis, Millington, and Southeast Memphis are largely African-American and some of the most economically distressed areas in Tennessee.
Shelby County, the largest geographic county in Tennessee at 754 square miles, has greater economic disparity than any other county.
The Economic Innovation Group’s (EIG) new 2017 Distressed Communities Index (DCI) lists Memphis as the sixth most distressed area among the nation’s 100 largest cities and the only city in the South at the top of the list.
66.1 percent of Memphians live in a distressed ZIP code. From 2011 to 2015, Memphis saw a 2.7 percent reduction in the number of businesses while Shelby County had a .09 percent reduction.
During that same time, Memphis employment increased 1.3 percent while in Shelby County it increased by 2.9 percent. Furthermore, the “distress score” for Memphis was 60.7 compared to 22.6 for Fayette County and 32.9 for Tipton County.
During the economic recovery, 99 percent of new jobs created nationwide went to college-educated workers and those jobs were co-located where those workers lived.
SNAP recipients in Shelby County who are unemployed often do not have the skills to qualify for vacant positions in the area or do not have easy access to training opportunities that are necessary to build those skills. SNAP helps them while they continue to seek employment.
Systemic racism throughout Memphis’s history has led to a lack of educational and job opportunities for many African Americans. Cutting off SNAP benefits will not make the necessary job opportunities available. It will just result in people who literally have no way to survive.
The new University of Memphis poverty fact sheet released in September found that Memphis “reverted to the poorest Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) with a population over a million people.”
While poverty in the U.S. overall has been dropping, poverty in Memphis is increasing, including in the city’s youth population where 43 percent live in poverty.
The report found that “poverty rates for the City of Memphis are higher than poverty rates in Shelby County for every category. Both are higher than poverty rates in Tennessee, and Tennessee poverty rates are higher than U.S. poverty rates in almost every category.”
I hope Mayors Luttrell and Strickland will join me in urging Governor Haslam to reconsider waiving federal work requirements for SNAP recipients in Tennessee.
At the very least, the governor should take into consideration that Shelby County and the City of Memphis should not be lumped together when determining which Tennessee counties will receive SNAP work requirement waivers.
Memphis is larger than most counties in Tennessee and should be considered as an economic entity unto itself.
To deny help to those who most desperately need it because others have been fortunate makes no sense and is not good government. Many Memphians will suffer without SNAP.
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, represents the 9th congressional district of Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives.