Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Bob Andrzejczak, Angela McKnight and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to help ensure that residents struggling to find work can still receive critical food assistance benefits from the state was approved 54-21-3 by the full Assembly on Monday.
The bill (A-3622) would require the state to pledge to ensure the availability of education, training or workfare opportunities that will permit certain participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, colloquially referred to as "food stamps") to remain eligible for benefits beyond the current three-month time limit.
"The state can help these individuals avoid the loss of SNAP benefits, while simultaneously preparing them for long-term employment, by ensuring the availability of qualifying education, training or workfare opportunities," said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). "This important change will ensure that someone struggling to find employment is able to put food on the table for their family."
"We must ensure the proper services are available to those in need," said McKnight (D-Hudson). "Denying much-needed services to those who need it, and then cutting off their benefits because of that denial, is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to stand."
"The status quo is appalling," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "We cannot stand idle while 11,000 people stand to lose their benefits because the state failed to deliver smart services that could save money in the long-run."
Current federal rules establish a time limit of three months of SNAP eligibility during any three-year period for "able-bodied adults without dependents" if they are unable to find qualifying employment, education, job training or workfare activities.
Historically, this time limit has generally been waived in New Jersey in regions of the state with high unemployment. However, the Department of Human Services declined to request any such waivers for 2016, which may result in an estimated 11,000 individuals losing SNAP benefits.
The Department of Labor and Workforce Development currently operates the SNAP Employment & Training Program, which is funded with a combination of state and federal funds. 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 now awaits further consideration by the Senate.