Proposal Would Take Away Food Assistance from 68,000 New Jerseyans

Sept. 25, 2019

(TRENTON) – The New Jersey Department of Human Services has called on the Trump Administration to withdraw plans to cut food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), saying the proposed change would “cause food insecurity to rise dramatically” throughout New Jersey.

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In a comment filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, New Jersey Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson stated the proposed rule “would cause serious harm and threaten the health and well-being of tens of thousands of working families, children, seniors and people with disabilities by causing more than 68,000 New Jerseyans to lose SNAP benefits.”

“The New Jersey Department of Human Services strongly urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withdraw the proposed rule and protect New Jersey children and working families from food insecurity,” Commissioner Johnson wrote.

Commissioner Johnson noted the change would mean an estimated loss of $33 million in annual economic activity at grocery stores, farmer’s markets and other food retailers across New Jersey.

The Trump Administration proposal would force states to change how people are determined to be eligible for SNAP by significantly limiting the state’s ability to use what is known as broad based categorical eligibility.  Categorical eligibility helps ensure that food assistance is available for working families in states with higher costs for essentials like housing and child care.  With this policy, families continue to get food assistance when they see modest increases in income, rather than having benefits cut abruptly.  It is a policy that encourages work and savings for low-income earners, and it is an important part of helping families get on a better financial footing.  Families with children categorically eligible for free school meals would lose direct access to the program and would be required to manually enroll to receive this benefit. The proposal also makes it harder for families to access energy assistance.

“SNAP is our nation’s most critical anti-hunger program and is the first-line of defense against food insecurity for hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans,” Commissioner Johnson said. “The proposed rule from the federal Administration would take away a key tool that helps working families in New Jersey.  Our terrific network of food pantries and volunteers simply will not be able to replace these critical federal resources and the result will be more food insecurity in our State. It’s wrong for New Jersey families and should be withdrawn.”

Deputy Commissioner Elisa Neira said the rule the Trump Administration seeks to change has helped make the SNAP enrollment process less costly and less complex, which reduces the administrative burden both on families and counties that help to facilitate enrollment.  She also noted how important categorical eligibility is in a State like New Jersey where costs for housing and other needs often exceed the national average.

 “SNAP supports working families and low-income earners beginning to save, while reducing administrative burdens on states and counties,” Deputy Commissioner Neira said. “The proposed change is poor policy that will do nothing more than hurt vulnerable residents struggling with hunger.”

Human Services’ comment letter opposing the rule change was supported by New Jersey’s leading anti-hunger organizations.

“This is a harmful, misguided proposal that would take us in the wrong direction,’’ said Adele LaTourette, director of Hunger Free New Jersey. “We should be shoring up the food safety net. When people are hungry, they struggle in all other aspects of their lives – work, health, living situations. Hunger erodes the basic foundation of our society.’’

"Our neighbors in need deserve better than the Trump Administration's proposal to gut SNAP," said Carlos Rodriguez, President & CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. "This misguided rule change could increase hunger in our state and around the country, making it more difficult for vulnerable families to make ends meet and punishing families for having meager savings."