published Monday, February 21st, 2011

1 in 6 Hamilton County residents gets food stamps

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    Staff photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Julie Kayser rubs her eyes in frustration while herson Zane Kayser, holding his son Bryson Kayser, asks for money in her home in Chattanooga, Tenn. Julie receives disability payments for her lupus and various other ailments alongside $41 a month in food stamps.

At 48, Julie Kayser expected to be firmly settled in her career and saving for retirement.

Instead, the former fast-food manager depends on a disability check and is among one in six people in Hamilton County using food stamps to make ends meet.

"I can tell you it's bad," she said. "We have to choose between buying food and paying the bills."

Kayser is among a record-breaking number of food stamp recipients in the state and across the country. The number of food stamp recipients in Hamilton County has increased nearly 50 percent since the recession hit in 2007, growing from 38,897 recipients in 2007 to 57,655 this year.

Across the state, the number of food stamp recipients has grown by about 68 percent since 2007. About one in five people in the state receives food stamps while that number is one in seven nationally, statistics show.

Last year, all 50 states showed an increase in the number of food stamp recipients. Idaho led the way with an increase of more than 28 percent, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program.

The number of recipients in Tennessee was up by less than 7 percent, one of the nation's smallest increases. Georgia, meanwhile, had a 15 percent rise in the number of residents participating in the food stamp program, more than 1.7 million in all.

Making every penny count

FOOD STAMP RECIPIENTS

Hamilton County

Year / People / Amount

2007 / 38,897 / $3.8 million

2008 / 40,043 / $4.15 million

2009 / 45,228 / $5.3 million

2010 / 54,397 / $7.55 million

2011 / 57,655 / $7.9 million

Tennessee

Year / People / Amount

January 2007 / 870,169 / $84.1 million

January 2011 / 1.27 million / $169.4 million

Source: Tennessee Department of Human Services

Georgia

November 2009: 1.5 million

November 2010: 1.7 million

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Food stamp recipients receive their allotment at the first of each month and Charles Morton, owner of Buehler's Market in Chattanooga, said he calls in more workers during the first two weeks of each month to accommodate those shoppers.

"That's when they load the [food stamp] cards up," he said. "If they spread it out, it would make it a lot easier on me."

Sixty percent of his business is from food stamp recipients who shop during the first two weeks of the month, Morton said.

People used to be embarrassed about getting food stamps, but not so much anymore, Kayser said.

"You can put your pride out there or your belly," she said. "It's better than being hungry."

For about a year until December 2010, Kayser lived with her 31-year-old daughter and was allocated $41 a month in food stamps. Since then, she has moved into her own apartment and hopes for an increase in benefits.

Kayser uses her food stamps and a $681 monthly disability check to help feed her formerly homeless boyfriend and her 20-year-old son, who recently lost his job and moved into her two-bedroom apartment.

Kayser, diagnosed with lupus and depression, has received disability payments for the past 10 years, although she did some part-time work until 2007.

"I worked until I absolutely couldn't work any longer," she said. "Between my back hurting so bad and the lupus, I was having trouble breathing. I was tired. I couldn't walk from one room to the other without having to sit down and catch my breath."

She said she tries to make every penny count by avoiding more expensive frozen dinners and shopping at discount stores such as Sav-A-Lot and United Grocery Outlet.

"Fresh vegetables there aren't as pretty as the other groceries, but they taste just as good," she said. "I fed eight people last night and I probably spent $12. You can't do much better than that."

She sometimes gets help making ends meet from her two adult daughters. Her younger daughter, age 28, sometimes invites her to dinner. At other times, her food stamps make the difference in her family eating or going hungry, she said.

"We've lived on flour and water for weeks at a time," she said.

Trend mirrors jobs

WHERE TO APPLY

Tennessee Department of Human Services, 311 E. M.L. King Blvd., Suite 301, Chattanooga. Monthly income limits to receive food stamps are:

Family of 1: $1,174

Family of 2: $1,579

Family of 3: $1,984

Family of 4: $2,389

Family of 5: $2,794

Family of 6: $3,200

Source: Tennessee Department of Human Services

Historically, when the economy has gone south, the food stamp rolls have increased, said Paul Lefkowitz, director of Families First with the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

"We've seen that since the recession began," he said. "We've seen significant increases in eligible families receiving food stamps."

It is not uncommon for the food stamp caseload to mirror the unemployment rate, when unemployment goes up or down, Lefkowitz said.

The state's unemployment rate has held steady at 9.4 percent for the past four months, said Jeff Hentschel, communications director with the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. That's down from the 10.7 percent recorded in January 2010, but it's still far from the 5 percent unemployment rate that was considered normal before the recession started in December 2007, Hentschel said.

And there's room for the number of food stamp recipients in Tennessee to increase, said Richard Dobbs, Tennessee's director of policy for its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

"I look at the census data to see how many people are living in poverty compared to how many are in the program," Dobbs said. "We're serving 80 to 85 percent of those who are eligible, so there is still room for growth."

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about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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fftspam said...

These are not 'food stamps'. People on this Gov assistance program are given a card similar to an ATM card which allows them to purchase Coca-Cola, Frozen pizzas, corn dogs, chicken nuggets.. etc.

If the TFP really wanted to do an investigative piece regarding EBT... stake out the 23rd Street Bi-Lo or Brainard Wal-Mart and watch the number of people buying "groceries" on an EBT card and then putting them into their very nice late model car. Where do I sign up?

February 21, 2011 at 3:59 a.m.
cannonball said...

Funny thing to me. Most the people using EBT cards at walmart are really overweight.

February 21, 2011 at 6:14 a.m.
dude_abides said...

Wait, what? White people use food stamps? I thought only African Americans got that benefit. The first 150 times I heard the story about steaks, beer, and Cadillacs it was always an African American woman. So if I vote people into office that would curtail these benefits, I will be hurting white folks? Recalculating......

February 21, 2011 at 7:11 a.m.
Beamis said...

The government is more than happy to transfer its stolen (printed & borrowed) wealth to enslave its subjects with dependency. The more people who need Big Brother the better, be it a Wall Street bankster, a heavily subsidized corn farmer or a Hixson mother loading her food stamp purchased goodies into her late model Honda.

I often stand in line at the grocery store and think "gee I sure could've used that extra hundred dollars that the lady in front of me just used with her food stamp card", and it no longer fazes me that her kid is usually playing on a Gameboy or wearing outrageously priced basketball shoes. It's all part and parcel of the game.

White or black, skinny or fat----Big Brother has something in his bag of ill gotten goodies for all of you!

Enjoy the slavery! Ain't democracy a gas???

February 21, 2011 at 7:45 a.m.
jpo3136 said...

Thank you for the story. This was a good idea. More people need to be made aware of the reality of the direct impact of our economic situation. Myths and platitudes about work don't help to solve the problem, as most of the people who need help with poverty aren't interested in being on the losing side of some mythic morality tale. Good job on the story.

February 21, 2011 at 7:55 a.m.
Happy_Day said...

I have a late model Honda because I worked 2 jobs to pay for it. I also "did the right thing" by taking in my niece's 2 kids when she went to jail. Im lucky if I have $50 a week to feed them because the good ole government won't help me provide for the extra mouths to feed. Why because I am related to them & make a whopping $30,000 a year which means I make too much to qualify for food stamps for the 4 mouths to feed. Also if I wasn't family I could get support for them as foster kids. A lot of times the people you refer to have foster kids & get not only $600-$1000 a month but food stamps for each kid they have. Maybe that pays for that nice car they drive.

February 21, 2011 at 8:40 a.m.
blaileigh said...

Kayser uses her food stamps and a $681 monthly disability check to help feed her formerly homeless boyfriend and her 20-year-old son, who recently lost his job and moved into her two-bedroom apartment.

What is wrong with this picture? This poor women is taking care of two grown men! They need to get a job.

February 21, 2011 at 9:20 a.m.
Bblonde1962 said...

Not everything can be printed in one article and not everyone is trying to get over on the system. My son just moved here from Ohio 2 weeks ago because he had been searching for a job for 6 months. We believe he has found one here. My boyfriend does work but, half his check goes to child support(which he rightfully pays). He became homeless due to a difficult set of circumstances. Before that, he had a decent job and we received no assistance. I know the system can be abused. I used to work at Bi-Lo and saw it every day. But that does not mean that everyone who receives them abuses them. We never thought that we would be in this situation. If and when it gets better, we plan on giving back to the community.

February 21, 2011 at 1:52 p.m.

Welfare and EBT abuse will be here as long as city and county government continues to not create a job base so that people can move on with there lives working a decent wag job that will support there family.

The federal government is allowing this to happen because once the major monatary money system collapes and the global binary system comes into place,welfare fraud will be the thing of the past.

Centralized control by big government is more or less where the country is headed any way so don't be puprised

February 21, 2011 at 8:13 p.m.
HannaBeckman said...

If this Kayser woman would toss out all the adult deadbeats that are mooching/free loading off of her, life would be better. boyfriend? 20 year old son? daughter(s)? Sounds like to me a whole family of deadbeats!!! Hell, my back hurts everyday at work. I cannot walk in the evenings, I am 100% blind in one eye, have had 2 knee operations the past 3 years, now walking at 25% at how I used to, and still work long hard hours at Lee U. I am sick and tired of lazy/ crybaby/ whining/ welfare moochers complaining!!! Get rid of your deadbeat adult family members first,

February 21, 2011 at 8:47 p.m.
HannaBeckman said...

Bblonde1962, just how will you give back to the community?? A yard sale???LOL!!! Volunteer at the Zoo??? Serve up soup 1 time at a welfare kitchen???

People all the time make these types of generic statements. Give back, blah,blah,blah,

February 21, 2011 at 11:46 p.m.
ceeweed said...

Boy, none of that Christian charity has rubbed off on you, Miss HannaBeckman who works at Lee U.

February 22, 2011 at 6:55 a.m.

Welfare and EBT abuse will be here as long as city and county government continues to not create a job base so that people can move on with there lives working a decent wage job that will support there family.

The federal government is allowing this to happen because once the major monatary money system collapes and the global binary system comes into place,welfare fraud will be the thing of the past.

Centralized control by big government is more or less where the country is headed any way so don't be surprise.

February 28, 2011 at 8:30 p.m.
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