Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera and Speaker Vincent Prieto on Thursday expressed their disappointment over the failure by Assembly Republicans to join Democrats in overriding Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a bill they sponsored to help low-income New Jersey residents access healthy meals. The measure initially cleared both houses of the legislature with more than enough support for an override.
The bill (A-2956), which the governor vetoed in September, would require the state to comply with federal minimum heating assistance contribution requirements in an effort to prevent 160,000 New Jersey households from losing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Because Republicans reneged on their previous support, the Assembly did not have the votes from two-thirds of the 80-member house necessary to override the governor’s veto.
Under the Agriculture Act of 2014, households qualifying for heating assistance from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) must receive more than $20 in annual energy assistance benefits in order to maintain eligibility for added SNAP benefits. The bill would have provided LIHEAP-eligible households with a minimum annual payment of $21 in order to allow them to qualify for a standard utility allowance under SNAP. Without this allowance, low-income residents who receive $20 or less from LIHEAP will see assistance for food costs cut by $90 per month.
“In the midst of the roughest part of the winter, this legislation would have ensured that families in New Jersey who are struggling to make ends meet in this tough economy had access to the bare essentials – food on the table and safe, warm homes.
“This boils down to a simple case of choosing between right and wrong. Assembly Republicans seemed to understand that when we first voted on the bill, and it’s just disappointing that they failed to side with some of our most vulnerable residents this time around,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester).
“The fact that New Jersey residents even have to consider choosing between heating their homes and feeding their families is a travesty.
“When Republican members of the Assembly supported this bill just months ago, they acted with a spirit of bipartisanship on behalf of low-income New Jersey households. Although no provision in the Farm Bill or any other federal law prohibits the state from increasing minimum LIHEAP payments, these members allowed baseless claims from the governor to foster an atmosphere of political cowardice.
“While other states have prioritized providing this support for working families struggling to make ends meet, today ours has failed. The absolute saddest part of this is that New Jersey residents who need the legislature to stand up for them the most – many of them children, seniors and individuals with disabilities – now have nowhere to turn,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson).
Since the enactment of the Farm Bill reforms to “Heat and Eat,” 10 states and the District of Columbia have committed to increasing LIHEAP payments to more than $20 per year in order to come into compliance with this new law and ensure their constituents remain “Heat and Eat” eligible.