NEWARK, NJ - Certain unemployed Monmouth County adults are no longer able to receive food assistance through the NJ Snap Program, formerly known as food stamps, under a rule that took effect this month.
People between the ages of 18 and 49 who have no dependents and are not disabled can only receive food assistance for three months over a 3-year period if they do not meet certain special work requirements.
“That means that even if someone is actively looking for a job and unable to find one, they are cut off from food assistance at a time when they need it most,” said Adele LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition. “This harmful policy will increase hunger throughout our state.”
And it only promises to get worse, LaTourette added. The first two rounds of cuts, which went into effect in April and May, are occurring in New Jersey’s wealthier counties -- Bergen, Monmouth, Warren, Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset and Sussex.
Additional cuts are coming later this summer in areas where unemployment remains high, making it difficult for people to find jobs. Statewide, the rule will eventually cut assistance to 11,000 New Jersey residents.
While the federal work requirement for “able-bodied adults” was enacted in 1996 as part of welfare reform, the federal government had suspended the rule in 2008 during the economic downturn due to widespread high unemployment. Last year, federal officials announced that states could impose the work requirement, but also allowed them to apply for a waiver for areas with persistently high jobless rates.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie chose not to apply for that waiver and conditionally vetoed legislation that would have required the state to ask for it.
New Jersey has more than 40 "labor surplus areas" – cities, towns, and counties with high unemployment, according to the U.S. New Jersey Department of Labor. In Bergen, that includes Garfield.
"At a time when New Jersey's sluggish economy results in many struggling to make ends meet, we urge the state to use its resources to improve access to the SNAP program,’’ said Carlos M. Rodriguez, executive director, The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. “Cutting off food assistance to those in the most tenuous situations does not make it easier for them to find a job, it simply means more hunger."
The Christie Administration announced last month that a compromise had been reached on the issue by requiring the state Department of Human Services to review annual employment data to decide whether to apply for the waiver.
“Unfortunately, this falls short,” LaTourette said. “We need assurances that people living in areas where there are no jobs will have enough food to eat. Only a full commitment to apply for waivers will do that.”
To be eligible beyond the time limit, an able-bodied adult with no children must work at least 80 hours per month, participate in qualifying education and training activities at least 80 hours per month or comply with a workfare program, which is unpaid work through a state program. Availability of these programs are limited and inconsistent throughout the state.
LaTourette said that the coalition and its many partners will continue to work with state officials and legislators to enact the rule waiver in the hardest hit areas.