Bill would boost minimum amount low-income families get for food assistance

By: - January 20, 2023 7:07 am

The minimum monthly benefit under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would rise from $45 to $95 under legislation advanced by the Assembly's human services committee on Jan. 19, 2023. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Lawmakers advanced a bill Thursday that would nearly double the minimum monthly food assistance for low-income families in New Jersey, who advocates warn face a “hunger cliff” when federal pandemic-related emergency aid expires next month.

Families enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have been receiving an extra $45 a month from the federal government since the coronavirus outbreak began, after Congress in March 2020 authorized emergency monthly supplements. For New Jersey SNAP recipients, that extra help amounted to more than $2 billion, according to the Department of Human Services.

Without that additional aid, the federal minimum monthly SNAP benefit is just $23.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law in June to bump the monthly minimum in New Jersey up to $50, making the Garden State the first nationally to set a minimum benefit, according to the state Department of Human Services.

Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) introduced a bill last week to raise the monthly minimum again from $50 to $95.

With the federal pandemic supplement set to end Feb. 28, the state legislation would ensure SNAP recipients won’t see their benefits drop. Almost 769,000 people from 397,000 New Jersey households were enrolled in SNAP as of November, according to the state.

(Graphic courtesy of the state Department of Human Services)

If the feds ever expand SNAP assistance again, the bill would allow the state to cut its SNAP contributions as long as the $95 monthly minimum is met.

Members of the Assembly’s human services committee unanimously advanced the bill Thursday after hearing from advocates, including Adele LaTourette, senior director of policy and advocacy for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

While the worst days of the pandemic might be over, LaTourette said, food insecurity persists, and food pantries are helping more people than ever.

“People are hurting,” LaTourette said. “With this hunger cliff coming, it’s really more of a Grand Canyon.”

Maura Sanders of Legal Services of New Jersey called the bill “essential.”

“Providing that nutrition support keeps that family from having to figure out: ‘Do I buy food, or do I pay the heating bill? Do I put gas in the car so I can go to work, or do I put food on the table for my kids?’” Sanders said.

Committee members applauded Coughlin’s bill.

SNAP recipients can check their benefits online here, with the Connect EBT mobile app, or by calling (800) 997-3333.

“We have 1.4 million people inside of our state that’s impacted by food insecurity, and out of that, 400,000 are children,” said Assemblyman Reginald Atkins (D-Union), a pastor who runs a food pantry with his wife. “To do something like this is a direct impact not only to those who are suffering from not having a job, but for those who actually have jobs, but just need extra help.”

In other business, the committee also unanimously advanced a resolution calling on the federal government to allow people to use SNAP benefits and other public assistance to buy diapers.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.