(TRENTON) – Though 1 in 8 households in New Jersey are food insecure – meaning families lack access to enough food and nutrition – participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is low, with New Jersey ranking 33rd in the nation for participation as of 2017.
To improve accessibility and increase awareness for this vital program, the Assembly Human Services Committee on Monday advanced two bills aimed to encourage more eligible New Jersey residents to apply for benefits.
SNAP provides direct benefits to families in need so they may purchase food at participating retailers. Assemblywoman Joann Downey, chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee and prime sponsor of both bills, said the measures are intended to make SNAP benefits easier for families to access, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we continue to grapple with COVID-19 and a nationwide recession, access to food assistance as never been more important,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “In these challenging times, no family should have to worry where their next meal will come from.”
The first bill (A-4241) would require the New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS) to conduct a survey of county welfare agencies to evaluate applicants and beneficiaries’ experiences with SNAP. The survey would identify strengths and weaknesses of county welfare agencies in processing SNAP applications, formulate trainings to improve application processing, and assess which counties need additional support. The survey would be conducted every two years.
The second measure (A-4242) would require DHS, in consultation and cooperation with relevant noncitizen advocacy organizations, to conduct public outreach campaigns to make residents who are not U.S. citizens aware of how SNAP participation may or may not impact their future citizenship or adjustment of status. Some refugees, crime victims or children may be able to receive benefits without future penalty.
The bills now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.