TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale and Senator Jim Whelan that would require the State to ensure availability of education and job training activities to certain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to prevent loss of benefits was approved today by the committee.
Current federal rules establish a time limit of three months of SNAP eligibility during any three-year period for “able-bodied adults without dependents,” or ABAWDs, if they are unable to find qualifying employment, education or job training activities. The bill, S-1855, would require the state to ensure availability of activities for ABAWDs, so that they may remain eligible for benefits beyond the current three-month time limit.
“These individuals are trying their best to comply with the work requirements of the food stamp program but are limited due to the lack of jobs available in the areas they live. Not only is there a scarcity of jobs, but there is no guarantee of available qualifying job training programs to help them while they continue to search for employment,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “It’s a double hit against New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents, and we cannot allow it.”
Historically, the three-month time limit has been waived in New Jersey due to the state’s high unemployment rate. 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 Department of Human Services has not applied for such waivers for 2016, which will result in an estimated 11,000 individuals losing their food assistance across the state.
“We have the ability to help individuals in our state’s most distressed areas avoid the loss of their main food source while at the same time preparing them for long-term employment through education and work training programs,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “Not applying for the waivers while at the same time failing to ensure adequate programs that enable these individuals to remain compliant with the food stamp program’s requirements is outrageous and unacceptable, and something must be done.”
By pledging to ensure this availability, the State would also qualify to receive a portion of the $20 million in federal funds allocated for such “pledge states.”
The bill was released from the Senate Health Committee by a vote of 8-0. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.