(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, Speaker Vincent Prieto and Assembly members Wayne DeAngelo, Annette Quijano, Shavonda Sumter and Sheila Oliver to help low-income New Jersey residents access heat and healthy meals was approved Monday by the full Assembly.
The bill is part of efforts by Assembly Democrats to lift people out of poverty and rebuild New Jersey’s middle-class.
“This legislation will help to ensure 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,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester).
The bill (A-1210) 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.
“The fact that New Jersey residents even have to consider choosing between heating their homes and feeding their families is a travesty,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “Other states have prioritized providing this support for working families struggling to make ends meet, today ours has failed. New Jersey residents need the legislature to stand up for them the most – many of them children, seniors and individuals with disabilities -have nowhere to turn.”
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.
“It is incomprehensible that residents have to choose between heating their homes and providing for their families,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “This legislation will help many families rightfully do both. Let’s not wait any longer to help residents who need it the most.”
“The Governor’s veto of this legislation last session prevented the state from helping thousands of low-income residents who must choose between heat and food during the cold months,” said Quijano (D-Union). “It is time to stop the political posturing and get back to the business of ensuring all residents have access to the assistance they deserve and enabling more residents to take care of their families without sacrificing warmth and healthy meals.”
“Food and heat are not luxuries. They are necessities,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Residents struggling to make ends meet should not have to choose between feeding their families and keeping a warm home in the winter time. This bill helps ensure they don’t have to during the winter.”
“Low-income families have a hard enough time making ends meet. These are basic provisions that we all need to survive,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “We have a responsibility to ensure that our most vulnerable residents get the support they need to provide for themselves and their families.”
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.
The bill was approved 53-21-2 by the Assembly and now awaits further consideration by the Senate.