NEW JERSEY - The demand for food assistance rose in New Jersey during the past year, according to a recent survey conducted by the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.
Almost 86 percent of the food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the state that responded to the survey reported an increased demand for food assistance in November 2013, compared with a year earlier. In addition, 83 percent of those responding say that clients in their programs have been affected by cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.
"We knew that the reduction in SNAP would make it more difficult for people to feed themselves and their families," said Adele LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition (http://www.njahc.org/" href="http://www.njahc.org/">www.njahc.org), a statewide network of more than 900 emergency food providers, activists and faith-based organizations. "This survey confirms that, and something else wesuspected: Non-profit and faith-based social service organizations don't have the money or manpower to pick up all the slack."
In November 2013, Congress let expire a boost in the SNAP program from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, cutting $5 billion from the food stamp program nationwide. That translated into a $90 million cut through September 2014 in New Jersey. Every SNAP recipient lost aid: $11 per month for one person and $29 per month for a household of three. As of January 2014, more than 877,000 New Jerseyans were receiving SNAP assistance.
As a direct result of the increased demand over the last year, two-thirds of the food assistance providers who answered the survey have been unable to fill the void completely:
* Roughly half said they have had to reduce the amount of certain types of healthy foods (lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products) given to clients;
* 47 percent reported having to have reduced the total amount of food they distributed;
* 1 in 10 had to cut back on the hours they were open;
Other providers said they have been able to keep serving clients only by seeking additional financial help from sponsoring organizations, such as churches or other community groups, and by soliciting to get more donations through additional food drives.
Diane Riley, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey’s Director of Advocacy commented, "The Community FoodBank of New Jersey is committed to our partners, food pantries and soup kitchens especially, who do an incredible job helping New Jersey families get the food they need every month. But government programs like SNAP are a critical part of the nutrition safety net. Charity could never make up for cuts in this important program.”
The problem is being compounded by a further reduction in SNAP enacted as part of the Farm Bill Congress passed in February. It is estimated that will lead to a cut of $90 per month in food stamp assistance to about 160,000 New Jersey families.
"There are some in Congress who have argued that the faith-based community, not the federal government, should be helping to feed those who are truly needy, but this is a wake up call for anyone who feels that way," said LaTourette. "There is not enough charity to fill the huge need. Senior citizens, children and the working poor all benefit from SNAP. Food is a basic necessity and the federal government needs to make sure all its citizens can get enough to eat."