TJC’s Letter to the 112th TN General Assembly

On behalf of the Tennessee Justice Center, congratulations on your recent election to the Tennessee General Assembly! We look forward to working with you!

At the Tennessee Justice Center, we work to ensure that all Tennesseans have access to food and health care in order to lead happy, productive lives. As you know, food insecurity is a challenging issue in Tennessee that often disproportionately affects children and seniors. We help our clients by assisting them with issues regarding access to federal food nutrition programs and take what we learn from them to serve as a resource for legislators as they make decisions on evolving nutrition policies. In the next year, our largest goals are to:

  • Ensure that all Tennessee children who struggle with hunger have access to food assistance programs during COVID and beyond. We are working closely with partners across the state, Department of Human Services and Department of Education to ensure that the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) programs work quickly and effectively to reach all qualified children.
  • Eliminate costly and unnecessary administrative barriers to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program SNAP (food stamp) program that will improve access to SNAP for seniors and others that are trying to access SNAP during a pandemic and save time and resources for the state. One example is adopted the telephonic signature option and improving response time to individuals calling with questions about SNAP.
  • Ensure that more women have access to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children WIC. Only 43% of qualified Tennessee women, infants and children have access to the WIC program. In a state with a high child poverty rate and that ranks in the bottom 10 for infant mortality, participation in programs like WIC should be improved.

We look forward to serving as a resource for you as you navigate food and nutrition policies like SNAP, WIC, and Pandemic Food Assistance Programs. Here are a few resources we have created on Hunger in Tennessee:

Access to health care is also a challenge for many Tennesseans, particularly for low-income children, people of color, and people with disabilities. There are over 300,000 adults who do not qualify for TennCare (our state’s Medicaid program) or Marketplace subsidies and find themselves in the coverage gap. At TJC, we work to uplift the experiences of people who are uninsured and underserved. We amplify the voices of consumers and providers to educate policymakers about the barriers to health care. Our focus in 2021 will be on the following priorities:

  • Connect people in the coverage gap, focusing on communities of color and rural communities, to policymakers. An additional 86,000 Tennesseans who previously had employer-sponsored insurance and lost their jobs due to the pandemic are expected to fall into the coverage gap. The loss of coverage disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic people as well as people living in rural areas. Tennessee has the highest rate per capita of hospital closures in the country, leaving many counties without a hospital.
  • Remove administrative barriers that make it difficult for children and young adults to maintain health coverage. Most children qualify for TennCare and CoverKids, yet Tennessee’s rate of uninsured children has risen in recent years to 5% (80,000 children). Young adults who aged out of foster care qualify for TennCare until age 26, but many have trouble staying covered after age 21. We will work to make enrollment processes more seamless, particularly for newborns, children with special health care needs, and former foster care youth.
  • Oppose harmful changes to the Medicaid program (such as a block grant and work reporting requirements) that would cause eligible people to lose their health insurance and exacerbate health disparities.

For more information about our health justice goals, please click here

Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any additional questions. You can contact us through e-mail at esherwood@tnjustice.org for any questions about food programs in Tennessse, or kyoung@tnjustice.org for questions about Tennessee’s healthcare programs. Feel free to check out our website for more information. Congratulations again and we look forward to having a productive partnership with you as we both work toward ending hunger and ensuring access to health care in Tennessee.