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Urges Minimal Increase in Home Energy Assistance to Prevent Low-Income Families from Losing Additional Food Stamp Benefits

TRENTON — Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) will be introducing legislation requiring an annual $20 increase in home energy assistance to help ensure that approximately 160,000 New Jersey SNAP households won’t see painful cuts in food stamp benefits.

 Without the increase in heating assistance, these households will lose the extra $90 per month in food stamp benefits when the new “Heat and Eat” income guidelines — part of the federal Farm Bill signed into law February 7 — become effective. The new guidelines use the level of heating assistance as a criterion in food stamp benefits.

 “Too many low-income New Jersey families are already struggling with paying for heat and food,” said Senator Turner.  “We need to keep the safety net in place to help meet the nutritional needs of our most vulnerable residents. Ninety dollars per month in nutrition benefits is too great of a loss for low-income individuals and families, especially in a state as costly to live in as New Jersey.”

 Senator Turner said that she is taking the unprecedented step of introducing a bill to require the additional $20 payment to prevent the food stamp cuts after she sought answers from the Department of Human Services through Office of Legislative Services staff. The request went unanswered.

“The Department has been silent about which direction it will take,” said Senator Turner.  “If the Department won’t step into action, we’ll legislate the increase to provide food stability.”

Seven “Heat and Eat” participating states, including Pennsylvania and New York, have already committed to providing the additional $20 in benefits needed to allow low-income households to continue qualifying for extra food stamps.

“A $3.2 million investment will return approximately $17 million in federal dollars to New Jersey and more in terms of economic activity,” said Senator Turner.  “This is a no-brainer — it’s a win-win for New Jersey.”