TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale, Senator Nellie Pou and Senator Bob Gordon that would require the Department of Human Services to request time limit waivers for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients in areas of the state with high unemployment rates was approved by the Senate today.
The bill, S-993, would require the Commissioner of Human Services to conduct a review of available data on labor and employment in the state to determine whether SNAP recipients classified as able-bodied adults without dependents, or ABAWDs, may be eligible for a waiver of the benefit time limit. If so, the commissioner would be required to submit a request for the waiver.
The time limit means that adults aged between 18 – 50 years who are considered able to work can only receive SNAP benefits for three months out of a 36-month period unless they work at least 20 hours a week, every week, or participate in an approved employment and training program. Since 2008, states with high unemployment rates have been able to get waivers from the federal government on time limits for the requirement that ABAWDs work at least 20 hours a week to enroll in SNAP.
Since New Jersey’s unemployment rate fell below 10 percent, it is no longer eligible to apply for the statewide waivers; however, federal waivers are still available for counties and municipalities within the state where unemployment is high and jobs are scarce. The administration has not applied for the waivers in 2016, which will result in a loss of benefits to thousands of individuals across the state.
“By refusing to submit waivers for high unemployment areas of the state, at no cost to the state, the administration has chosen not to support vulnerable New Jersey residents who are down on their luck through no fault of their own,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “These are individuals who live in the state’s most distressed areas, where jobseekers far outnumber available jobs and long-term unemployment runs rampant. Leaving them behind is unacceptable, and this bill will reverse the current administration’s inaction on the issue.”
“The federal program accounts for situations like the one New Jersey is facing. Unemployment is still high in many areas of the state, and as a result many residents are having extreme difficulty finding work,” added Senator Pou (D-Bergen, Passaic). “This bill would require the state to take a small but proactive step of applying to the federal government for waivers so that people in counties, or in towns and cities with high jobless rates, are able to receive these benefits. There is no good reason not to take this action, given the circumstances.”
The bill would also require the commissioner to submit monthly reports to the Governor and Legislature on the number of SNAP participants in each county that would be considered ABAWD, the number of participants whose benefits are in danger of being terminated within the next month due to the benefits time limit, and the number of participants whose benefits were terminated in the past month as a result of the time limit.
“This information will keep the legislature up to date on what is happening so that we can begin to address these issues in real time, rather than having to play catch up,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen, Passaic). “This safety net program is too important to allow the loss of benefits to individuals who are struggling to meet their basic nutritional needs.”
The federal waivers of the SNAP employment and training requirement would have allowed for some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents to continue receiving food assistance benefits independent of their employment status. Media reports have stated that about 11,000 New Jersey residents will lose their food assistance as a result of the Governor’s decision, but advocates suspect that number is grossly underestimated.
Additionally, by failing to apply for the waivers, the State could lose out on almost $21 million in federal money without any State required match. Numerous studies have found that a one dollar increase in SNAP benefits generates $1.70 in local economic activity.
“This legislation is the right thing to do. We are elected to serve all of our constituents, and especially our most vulnerable residents who need a helping hand,” added Senator Vitale.
A second measure, sponsored by Senator Gordon, Senator Vitale and Senator Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), that would urge the federal Food and Nutrition Service to amend its current regulations concerning waivers of time limits for SNAP benefits to allow county and municipal governments to apply for waivers on their own authority also cleared the Senate.
The bill, S-993, cleared the Senate by a vote of 34-0 and now heads to the Assembly for consideration. The resolution, SCR-47, cleared the Senate with a vote 35-0 and also heads to the Assembly.