Bill Would Provide Utility & Nutrition Help to Families & Boost N.J. Economy
Speaker Says Energy/Nutrition Assistance Bill Must be Part of Discussion of Clean Energy/Nuclear Future
(TRENTON) – Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin on Thursday announced the Assembly will be advancing legislation to increase heat-and-eat assistance payments as part of his effort to help New Jersey families facing hunger and other struggles.
Coughlin (D-Middlesex) said the legislation must be part of the discussion as lawmakers consider the future of New Jersey’s clean energy and nuclear programs.
“We cannot discuss New Jersey’s clean energy future without considering the families who pay the bills,” Coughlin said. “Too many families are struggling to make ends meet. It’s important that we strengthen New Jersey’s clean energy programs, but it’s also important that we remember the families who struggle each day to make ends meet. We must provide all the help we can – and with this simple step we can help thousands upon thousands of our residents.”
Coughlin has made combating hunger a top priority, and said he expects the heat-and-eat bill to be heard Monday by the Assembly Women and Children Committee chaired by Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera.
Under the heat-and-eat bill (A-3010), every household in the state eligible to receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would receive a minimum annual energy assistance payment of $21 to qualify for a heating and cooling standard utility allowance – which in turn qualifies them for more nutritional assistance.
The bill could help about 160,000 families get increased assistance.
“This is meaningful help to many, many families,” Coughlin said.
Before July 2014, the state made annual energy assistance payments of $1 to SNAP recipient households to qualify them for the heating and cooling standard utility allowance.
But under the federal Agricultural Act of 2014, households must receive more than $20 in annual energy assistance payments to maintain the household’s eligibility. The bill therefore ensures that eligible households that are not currently enrolled can receive the heating and cooling standards utility allowance, allowing them to receive more nutrition assistance.
Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed several efforts by Democrats to boost the energy assistance payment in recent years. Because of the vetoes, New Jersey families lost $90 per month of their nutrition assistance.
“Fortunately, the landscape has changed,” said Mosquera (D-Gloucester/Camden). “We’ve tried so hard to ensure families get this much-needed assistance, but under Speaker Coughlin’s leadership and with a new governor, we will get this done. We are making families a priority. This is significant and timely help for many, many of our families – and the right thing to do for our state.”
“These benefits are known to have a large positive impact on the economy, since families are likely to spend the money immediately, so it’s smart in many ways,” said Assembly Majority Conference Leader Shavonda Sumter (D-Passaic/Bergen). “We must focus on the needs of families, and this is a compassionate and responsible approach. Helping families struggling to make ends meet is progressive, shared value, and I look forward to it becoming reality.”
It’s been estimated that maintaining heat-and-eat benefits would yield up to $170 million in federal SNAP funds in New Jersey. Also, the state could likely use federal funds from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to pay for the increase in energy assistance.
New Jersey Policy Perspective has estimated that keeping up to $170 million in federal SNAP dollars in New Jersey could result in an economic boost of up to $300 million.
“My commitment to make New Jersey more affordable will not waver,” Coughlin said. “Ensuring New Jersey has a strong job-creating clean energy industry is a must, and we’re working on that, but so is helping families with energy and nutritional assistance payments. It’s the right approach socially and fiscally. I look forward to accomplishing both goals.”