Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, Assembly Majority Conference Leader Shavonda Sumter and Speaker Craig Coughlin to ensure that struggling families have access to food and energy assistance was approved by the Assembly, 67-7.
“Many of us are lucky enough to not have to worry about how we are going to feed our children or keep them warm during the winter months, but this is a daily reality for many low-income families in our state,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This will help ensure that struggling families will have access to the bare essentials – food on the table and safe, warm homes.”
“Families should not have to choose between heating their homes and feeding their children,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Anyone who has done a grocery run lately understands how costly groceries can be, especially if you’re trying to make healthier choices. This bill will help provide low income families in New Jersey that depend on this assistance the help they need to endure.”
“There are things that families cannot and should not go without. Food and heat are certainly high on that list,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “We have a responsibility to ensure that our most vulnerable residents get the support they need to provide for themselves and their families.”
Under the bill (A-3010), every household in the state eligible to receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would be referred to the applicable Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) grantee for evaluation to verify if the household qualifies for a heating and cooling standard utility allowance – which in turn qualifies them for more nutritional assistance.
Every qualifying household shall receive a minimum annual energy assistance payment of $21. The bill could help nearly 160,000 families get increased assistance.
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.
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.
The vote by the full Assembly was the concurrent vote approving the Governor’s recommendations made under a conditional veto on May 17. The bill will now go to the Senate for further consideration.