New Jersey’s poor and needy are struggling to make ends meet and to feed their families, something that should be unconscionable in modern America and even more so in New Jersey. Time and again, the Christie Administration has turned a blind eye to our state’s most vulnerable, keeping much needed food off of hungry people’s tables. The policies perpetrated by this administration are exacerbating a hunger crisis in the state that continues to grow, leaving New Jersey’s children, seniors and adults in need.
A recent news account brought to my attention a serious loophole in the State Food Purchase Program that limits needy family’s access to healthy and nutritious food. The program provides grants from the state to food banks for emergency assistance for individuals and families in need. An unfortunate caveat of the program is that once someone gets food from the bank, they must wait 30 days before returning for help.
Compounding this issue is Chris Christie’s unwillingness to act to prevent damaging cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formally the national food stamp program. A recent federal law required that households must receive more than $20 in annual energy assistance payments in order to maintain eligibility for additional SNAP benefits under the “heat and eat” program. In this past year’s state budget, we increased the amount that these low-income families receive in energy assistance to $21 so in turn 160,000 New Jersey households could benefit from an average of $90 additional per month in federal SNAP benefits. This would have been an injection of $170 million into the state to feed our hungry.
Gov. Christie vetoed the measure. Of the 14 states with “heat and eat” programs, New Jersey is one of only four that failed to step up and help these families in need.
To make matters worse, if that’s possible, Christie’s administration has neglected food stamp distribution so badly it has been put on notice by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that New Jersey could lose a share of the roughly $140 million it receives from the federal government for the SNAP program. New Jersey stands to lose up to a total of $310 million in federal funding due to the state’s slow performance in processing applications as well as Christie’s veto of a move to continue combining home energy assistance with eligibility for the program.
Gov. Christie continues to allow his national political ambitions to cloud his judgment about what is best for those he was elected to serve — the people of New Jersey. His “Let Them Eat Cake” attitude may play to a right-wing base, but it is harmful for the families here at home who are experiencing severe economic problems.
New Jersey has been one of the slowest states to rebound from the recession, with an unemployment rate that is more than half a percentage point higher than the national average. About 1.5 million New Jersey seniors, children and adults are currently “food insecure,” unsure of where their next meal will come from. And with more than 10,000 Atlantic City employees recently out of work, we will continue to see the number of individuals who need help feeding their families increase.
The legislature is going to give Gov. Christie a chance for redemption on these actions, to make things right for some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable population. We have already passed SCR-141 in the Senate that will direct the governor to increase energy assistance to the necessary $21 per year to ensure federal dollars are available to New Jersey families. I have also introduced a package of bills that will address hunger in Atlantic City by providing an expedited process to receive aid during an economic crisis, ensuring that our children have access to breakfast with an expanded “after the bell” program and supplying applicants for food stamps with a receipt that their application has been filed.
Perhaps when this legislation reaches the governor’s desk, he will put his presidential ambitions aside and help the hungry in New Jersey.
Read Senator Lesniak’s opinion-editorial online here.