Stephanie Myers | News-Herald
Good Samaritan Center pantry worker Pat Davis organizes food. The nonprofit distributes more than 32,250 pounds of food per month and that number continues to grow as more and more SNAP recipients depend on other sources, GSC Executive Director Paula Roach said.
April Bivens knows all too well that teenagers have quite the appetite. It doesn't help that she will be receiving her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits 10 days later next month when the state launches its revised distribution schedule.
As a single mother raising two teenagers and a 10-year-old, Bivens said the $436 in SNAP benefits she receives each month doesn't nearly cover her expenses. The change will add to her financial dilemma.
Bivens stops by the Good Samaritan Center as often as she can when SNAP and her $2.38-an-hour paycheck plus tips don't stretch far enough.
"It's one thing when the kids are at school. That's two meals a day they eat at school and then you have that one meal and then you have snacks," Bivens said. "You know, kids want to snack around in between supper and bedtime. I'm not going to look at my kids and say, 'no, you can't eat.' They're hungry, they're growing kids and they're going to want to eat, but it's going to be a lot harder."
Effective Oct. 1, SNAP distribution will be based on the last two digits of the recipient's Social Security number. The day a recipient receives benefits may be extended from one to 10 days, according to a Tennessee Department of Human Services press release, meaning October's benefits may be stretched past the usual "every 30 days." Original monthly benefit amounts will not change.
Bivens said she'll try to stretch her dollars, ask for family assistance and rely on area church pantries from now until she receives $436 on Oct. 18.
"If it wasn't for family, me and my kids would probably be on the streets," she said. "Actually, I was being evicted. I wish they would just leave it alone. Why do they have to keep changing the date?"
Opinions are mixed with local grocery store managers.
While some say the change will go unnoticed on revenue reports, Lenoir City Food City Manager Bob Jones said it will benefit the grocery chain.
"I'm a little worried that people who will be towards the end, like the ninth or 10th day, are going to have to wait another 10 days really to get their money, but that's just inevitable with this change," Jones said.
He said the new distribution schedule will "smooth out" his store's regular business. Now his store sees the biggest spike in business, because of SNAP, toward the end of the 10-day distribution period, meaning more stress on truck orders, employee schedules and shelf supplies.
"Of course, we had to schedule more cashiers and more people that week," Jones said. "Well, now it will be more smooth. As we can tell it, now you won't see that big spike. It will spread it more throughout the month."
The Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association had requested SNAP benefits be distributed throughout the month instead of the first 10 days to help accommodate supply and demand on grocers.
"The tendency is that they are going to spend those funds, pretty much the majority of their funds, as soon as they get on their card," TGCSA President Jarron Springer said.
With the tendency for funds to be spent within those first 10 days of distribution, retailers see a spike in sales, perishable items are out of stock and employee schedules are unbalanced at the first of the month.
"As your sales rise at the first of the month, you have a bad customer experience, even if you are prepared for it," Springer said. "Your demand skyrockets in your store but you only have so many square feet of space, so many employees on your payroll to be able to manage a higher volume of customers.
"We want to be able to have a better customer experience for shoppers, better employment opportunities for our employees, a business model that we can manage and provide these things we want to do and don't want to run out. This even affects the wholesale and where the trucks come from," he added.
Family Dollar Assistant Manager Lori Sedman isn't so sure she agrees with Springer. Though she said the Loudon store sees more customers at the first of the month, she doesn't think the change will impact store profits.
"Once they figure it out it's going to change our busiest time of the month is really all it's going to do," Sedman said, noting that about 75 percent of the store's sales is paid with SNAP.
United Grocery Outlet Manager Sharon Brown agrees with Sedman.
"They will still be getting food stamps. They will be just getting them different times of the month," she said, adding a majority of the Lenoir City store's customers pay with SNAP.
For the recipient, Sedman has a different opinion.
"I think it should have been left the way it was. I guess because it's been that way so many years and it seemed to work well," Sedman said. "Most families plan for a whole month when they get their benefits. It's harder to do that when you're in the middle of the month, especially with kids going back to school. ... A lot of bills are due at the beginning of the month and, you know, it's harder."
With Tellico Village's demographic, Food Lion Manager Joe Yearout doesn't believe his store will be impacted.
"Time will tell on that," Yearout said. "If it had any impact it would probably just make the weeks of business more level for stores that have a high level traffic of those type transactions."
Paula Roach, executive director of the Good Samaritan Center, said many clients coming through their doors are on the food stamp program.
"More often than not we see very few that are not receiving food stamps and TennCare and Families First, so a lot of our clients are on those programs," Client Services Manager Toni Hoffman said.
The nonprofit distributes more than 32,250 pounds of food per month, and that number is growing, Roach said. She doesn't expect the schedule switch to make a huge difference.
"Right before food stamps are issued we are slammed," Roach said.
More than 7,000 of the over 1.3 million Tennesseans on SNAP live in Loudon County, accounting for $958,000 of the $179 million distributed in the state.
For more information, call the county department of human services office at 865-986-4751 or the Family Assistance Service Center at 866-311-4287.