At least one member of the Tennessee General Assembly reportedly wants to spend the state’s $700 million surplus on government social programs because he thinks it will help end poverty.

That legislator, State Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville), reportedly said this to the Nashville-based TNLedger.com

“That money can go toward workforce development, job training, child care, transportation, drug use prevention,” the website quoted Mitchell as saying.

“That’s how we fund social services and break the cycle of poverty.”

The website also quoted State Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, who stressed the need for fiscal responsibility.

“One of her legislative priorities is to see to it that TANF funds help qualified recipients gain employment and self-reliance,” according to TNLedger.com

Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, reportedly said he wants to “maintain fiscal responsibility.”

The Memphis-based WREG, meanwhile, said Tennessee receives $190.9 million through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. But the state only spent $71.1 million of that in one recent year.

The station went on to report that the block grant funds “have significantly more flexibility than other federal entitlement money.”

WREG quoted officials with the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee saying state officials should use the funds to create innovative programs.

Beacon is a free market think tank.

As The Tennessee Star reported in October, Shelby County gets a huge chunk of the state’s entitlement programs.

TennCare is by far Tennessee’s largest entitlement program in terms of caseload and cost to the state.

As reported, Beacon reported the use of other benefits like Tennessee’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, however, have gone down since the Great Recession ended.

“Shelby County represents the largest caseload size across all three support programs: 22 percent of the SNAP caseload, 23.3 percent of the TANF caseload, and 17 percent of the TennCare caseload,” according to a Beacon report, titled Poverty to Prosperity: Reforming Tennessee’s Public Assistance Programs.

“Over 85 percent of all individuals enrolled in all three support programs live in an urban area. In fact, 40 percent of SNAP recipients, 43.5 percent of TANF recipients, and 37 percent of TennCare enrollees live in one of the big four counties: Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Shelby.”

Beacon’s report goes on to say approximately 287,000 working age adults who are not elderly or disabled currently receive SNAP benefits in Tennessee.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to chrisbutlerjournalist@gmail.com.

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