For as many as 1 million unemployed adults across the country, the federal food assistance clock is ticking. In January, work requirements for able-bodied, childless adults who receive federal SNAP benefits—formerly known as food stamps—were reinstated in 22 states across the country, following a temporary suspension of the requirements in recent years.

Seventeen percent of Tennessee’s population is considered food insecure and in need of food assistance. Members of The Council of State Governments gathered at the culmination of the 2015 CSG National Conference Dec. 13 in Nashville, Tenn. to help address the need in the Volunteer State as part of the CSG Campaign Against Hunger initiative.

Since 1996, 18 states lifted their bans on food stamp eligibility for felony drug convictions, 26 states have issued partial bans for certain types of felony convictions, and only 6 states have full bans for those with any record of a felony drug conviction. The six states with full bans are Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP and food stamps, is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program. The program is designed to be anti-cyclical—providing more benefits during economic downturns. About 46.5 million Americans received monthly SNAP benefits in the 2014 fiscal year, dramatically up from 28 million in 2008. In 2013, some states began to see SNAP numbers decline and by 2014, all but eight states posted declines in enrollment from the year before. National SNAP enrollment in 2014 was down by 2.3 percent from 2013.

Even as the recession abates, working family incomes often cannot cover family expenses and families are reaching out to food banks and community support systems to meet basic needs. These support systems also have struggled under economically stressful times and new creative approaches are needed.

Researchers at the Center for American Progress estimate that hunger costs the U.S. at least $167.5 billion every year based on a combination of lost economic productivity, increased education expenses, avoidable health care costs, and the cost of charity. 

Food insecurity – the lack of consistent access to adequate food – affects millions of children and adults every year in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Almost 15 percent of all households in 2013 were food insecure, or 49.1 million Americans. On average, from 2003-2011, around one in ten households that include children were food insecure, ranging from a low of 5.1 percent in New Hampshire to a high of 12.8 percent in Texas.

Hunger affects millions of children every year in the U.S. and is linked to greater rates of absenteeism and school disciplinary problems. Those behaviors are, in turn, associated with lower academic achievement and greatly increase the chance a child will drop out of school – which comes with a huge price tag for tax payers. 

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—Nearly 200 state leaders, guests and Alaska legislative staff helped pack 32,000 meals for the Alaska Food Bank during The Council of State Governments’ service project Aug. 13. The project—which began in 2010-11 during Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris’ year as chair of CSG’s Southern Legislative Conference—grew this year to be part of Norris’ initiative as CSG national chair, “State Pathways to Prosperity.” The service project occurred on the final day of the joint CSG National and CSG West Annual Conference.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—When CSG’s 2014 chairman Mark Norris talks about the State Pathways to Prosperity initiative, he says “it’s something like awakening the sleeping giant.” Norris, the Tennessee Senate majority leader, spoke at The Council of State Governments 2014 Leadership Council meeting in June.