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 received final legislative approval by the General Assembly 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.
“This is about doing the right thing for New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents. These individuals are trying their best to comply with the work requirements of the food stamp program but are confined by the lack of jobs available in the areas they live,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “The administration’s failure to apply for time limit waivers for these high unemployment areas of the state will only add to the hunger problem in New Jersey. While it costs the state nothing to act, our Governor has instead chosen to leave more federal dollars on the table that could otherwise be spent helping those most in need. We simply can’t turn our backs on the people we were elected to serve.”
“Safety net programs like SNAP provide a system of support when times are tough for members of our society, and the federal program accounts for such situations as the one we are facing in New Jersey, where statewide eligibility is no longer available but regional waivers are available for areas where jobless rates are high,” said Senator Pou (D-Bergen, Passaic). “It would cost the state nothing but would mean everything for those individuals who struggle to secure their next meal. This is the right thing to do.”
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.
“The clock is already ticking for a large number of individuals who will be affected by the inaction of the current administration to apply for waivers of the SNAP benefit time limit. These New Jerseyans are struggling to meet their basic nutritional needs, and will soon find themselves with no means to sustain themselves. The issue must be addressed immediately,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen, Passaic). “The transparency required by this bill will allow the legislature to be kept apprised of the situation so we can act proactively and in real time versus retrospectively.”
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.
“When residents in our state’s most distressed areas are in need of a helping hand, it is our duty as legislators to do the right thing. And this legislation is the right and necessary course of action,” added Senator Vitale. “Anything short of making this application is unacceptable.”
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 the Assembly by a vote of 59-9-7. The resolution, SCR-47, cleared the Senate with a vote 35-0 and the Assembly by 65-4-5. It now heads to the Governor for action.