An Assembly panel on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Pamela Lampitt and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to establish an enrollment program to help make sure New Jersey's most vulnerable families get the food assistance they need.
The bill (A-4090) would establish the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment program in the Department of Human Services (DHS).
"We need to be more creative in making sure this program works for the people who need it most because clearly the long-running approach has not been working," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "Long delays and a lack of communication have left many needy families in the lurch. This will help provide more clarity and make sure more residents are aware of this critical assistance."
The bill was designed to help combat New Jersey's "chronically poor performance" in administering the SNAP program. Reports last summer ranked the state 52nd out of 53 state agencies nationwide in terms of timeliness when it comes to processing applications for the program.
"These changes will bring this program directly to residents, make them more aware of it, and help them enroll onsite," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Hopefully this will help alleviate some of the issues that have forced some of our most vulnerable residents to wait an exorbitant amount of time to find out if they qualify for crucial assistance to help feed their families."
Specifically, the bill would require DHS to collaborate with the federal Food and Nutrition Service in the Department of Agriculture and the appropriate county welfare agencies to hold events twice a year at three different locations, representing all geographic areas in New Jersey. These six events will be an opportunity for individuals to learn about SNAP benefits, be screened for eligibility and, if eligible, be given the opportunity and assistance to enroll in SNAP.
The bill would also require that the department prepare and submit to the legislature, prior to January 1 of each year, an annual report providing information on the SNAP events held each year.
The report is required to include: the number of individuals who attended each event, the number of individuals who were screened for eligibility at each event by the department or county welfare agencies; the number of individuals who were deemed eligible at each event; the number of individuals who applied for and were approved for SNAP benefits; and the number of individuals who received at least one payment of SNAP benefits after the SNAP enrollment event.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee, which is chaired by Vainieri Huttle.