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Vitale Session

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale and Senator Jim Whelan that would require the Department of Human Services to take appropriate action to exempt veterans from benefits time limits applicable to able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cleared the Senate Health Committee today.

The benefit time limit means that adults who are considered able to work can only receive SNAP benefits for three months out of a three-year period unless they are actively employed or participating in an approved employment and training program.

Currently, states have broad discretion to grant individual exemptions from the SNAP benefits time limit as they see fit, provided that the number of exemptions does not exceed 15 percent of the total number of ABAWDs in the state who are ineligible for food assistance benefits as a result of the time limit. This bill, S-2876, requires the Commissioner of Human Services to submit a request to the United States Secretary of Agriculture to seek a federal waiver of the SNAP benefits time limit for veterans within 60 days of enactment under the “15 percent exemption.”

“Veterans face unique challenges as they return from service, between mental health challenges to translating their skillset for use in a civilian environment,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “Denying them food is wrong. This bill offers them a helping hand to help fill their most basic need to eat after they have served our nation courageously and selflessly to protect our rights and freedom.”

A report released in early 2016 by the U.S. Department of Labor found that veterans in New Jersey suffered from a nearly 11 percent unemployment rate in 2015 – a rate that is almost double the national average of 5.8 percent for this group. Challenges in securing appropriate employment for veterans include difficulty in transferring military skills to a civilian environment, physical injuries and mental health challenges stemming from service time, cultural barriers, hiring bias, a lack of education history necessary to satisfy employment prerequisites, and less time in the workforce than other civilian applicants.

“Tough times fall on members of our society, and veterans are particularly susceptible to hardship following their return to civilian life,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “Our safety net programs are designed to support our residents during their toughest times. This waiver would help sustain basic nutritional needs for members of our society who were willing to sacrifice their lives to protect ours.”

Under the bill, if the waiver request is approved, the commissioner shall submit a request for renewal of the statewide waiver on an annual basis thereafter.

The bill would further require the commissioner to assess all ABAWD veterans in New Jersey to determine whether they are physically or mentally unfit for employment and refer these veterans for further services based on that assessment. Under federal law, if the commissioner determines that an ABAWD veteran is medically certified as being physically or mentally unfit for unemployment, that veteran will no longer be deemed as an ABAWD and will automatically be exempted from the three-month SNAP benefits time limit and work requirements. Furthermore, the State will not be required to use its 15 percent exemption authority when granting such an exemption.

The bill cleared the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee by a vote of 9-0. It next heads to the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee for consideration.

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