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Wimberly, Vainieri Huttle & Sumter Bill to Help Ensure Continuation of Food Assistance Benefits for Struggling Residents Signed into Law

(TRENTON) – A bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Shavonda Sumter to help ensure food assistance benefits continue when needed for New Jersey residents struggling to find work has been signed into law.
Federal regulations provide that, in general, able-bodied adults without dependents are subject to a time limit for SNAP benefits of three months in a 36-month period unless they work at least 20 hours per week. However, states are permitted to seek a waiver of the three-month time limit if the unemployment rate in the state or an area of the state is greater than 10 percent, or if there is a lack of sufficient jobs to provide employment.
“The state had applied for, and received, numerous waivers from 2009 to 2015 for counties who were struggling with unemployment rates higher than the statewide average,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “We likely would have been approved again for those counties that are still struggling, but instead the administration decided not to apply and now 11,000 residents are forced to go without food assistance. This shouldn’t happen again.”
Prior to the new year, there were 900,000 individuals in New Jersey receiving SNAP benefits, including 60,000 who are able-bodied and childless. Under SNAP guidelines, those 60,000 individuals must work or be enrolled in a training program to qualify for benefits and 11,000 were not meeting that requirement. According to news reports, the Christie administration notified 15 counties last summer that it intended to apply for waivers but then reportedly notified agencies on New Year’s Eve that benefits would be ending for those 11,000 residents because the state declined to submit the waiver requests, allowing their waivers to expire effective January 1, 2016.
“Many economically struggling counties and municipalities in New Jersey likely could have been approved for another waiver had the administration followed through with their original promise to apply for it,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This will revamp the entire process so that thousands of people are not left without a safety net with little warning.”
“Unfortunately, we still have a significant number of counties still struggling to rebound from the recession, making it harder for residents to find work,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). For the long-term unemployed, SNAP benefits can make the difference between whether they go to bed hungry at night or not. This will ensure that waiver requests are submitted when warranted so this doesn’t happen.”
The law (S-993/A-2777) requires the Commissioner of Human Services to conduct a review of available data on labor and employment in the state to determine whether to submit a request for a waiver of the benefit time limit for able-bodied adults without dependents participating in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps).
Then based on the review of the availability of opportunities to fulfill the federal work requirement for participation in SNAP, the commissioner would determine whether to submit a request for a waiver. Initially, the bill automatically required the Commissioner to submit a waiver.