Assembly hearing package of bills aimed at reducing food insecurity

Bills would make it easier to apply for food stamps, add extra benefit for seniors

By: - May 26, 2022 7:12 am

Assembly Democrats say the bills are intended to ease registration, boost outreach and expand nutrition benefits. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

The state Assembly is set to vote on a package of bills addressing food insecurity Thursday.

The measures all involve the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP and more commonly known as food stamps. The federally funded program provides assistance to low-income families who need help buying groceries.

More than 1 million people, including 400,000 children, struggle with food insecurity in New Jersey.

One measure (A2359) would require the application process to be streamlined to maximize enrollment of people eligible for SNAP. Under the bill, the Department of Human Services commissioner would need to update the online application so users can easily create an account and track their application status.

The department would also be required to establish and maintain a call center for people who need help applying or checking on their applications. After 18 months of the upgraded program, the commissioner would submit a report to the governor and state Legislature so they could decide whether the call center should continue.

The bill would appropriate $750,000 for the call center, website upgrades, and staffing.

Another bill (A2361) would increase the department’s role in reaching out to vulnerable residents who could benefit from SNAP.

It would require the state to maintain an outreach program with community-based organizations and county welfare programs and publicize SNAP with social media campaigns, a navigator program to recruit people to assist applicants, webinars, and more.

Another piece of legislation in the package scheduled for a vote Thursday directs the department to issue an additional monthly benefit of $15 to SNAP enrollees who are senior citizens or have disabilities. While the federal government provides funding for SNAP, the state would fund the additional $15.

The bill cites eligibility requirements that show senior citizens and people with disabilities can receive monthly payments as low as $16.

The measure appropriates $20.5 million to the Department of Human Services for the supplemental check. The Office of Legislative Services estimates the bill would cost $68.3 million to provide the additional benefit to enrollees who are 60 and older or have a disability.

The other bills would:

  • Appropriate $250,000 to establish an annual training program with county boards of social services to help SNAP applicants (A2363). The training would be mandatory for county boards of social services.
  • Require the human services commissioner to apply for a federal waiver of the benefit limit for adults who do not have dependents (A2362). Under current federal law, adults with no children are typically eligible for SNAP benefits for three months over a three-year period.
  • Eliminate the requirement for SNAP beneficiaries to take an employment and training program (A2360).

Each of the bills has a companion in the state Senate, but committees in that chamber have not heard them.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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