With economic hard times overwhelming individuals and families, unprecedented numbers of our state’s residents have applied for help from public assistance programs operated by New Jersey’s county governments. In just the past three years, counties have witnessed a 62% increase in the number of Food Stamp recipients.
To cope with exploding caseloads, county governments have been leading the way to streamline the Food Stamp application process and ensure this important safety net can be timely accessed. In partnership with the New Jersey Division of Family Development, counties have implemented significant changes to make efficiency and customer service the top priority in the administration of the Food Stamp Program.
People can now apply for Food Stamps online. Interviews are now being conducted over the telephone. Office hours have been expanded. The number of times that a customer is required to visit the county agency to determine continued eligibility has been reduced. With the support of the Governor, the New Jersey Department of Human Services expanded eligibility by increasing the maximum income to 185% of the State’s poverty level. For certain households there is no longer a burdensome resource examination. A single application for all public assistance programs has been developed.
These are some of the steps we have already successfully put into action. They have helped us deliver benefits to eligible applicants as quickly as possible.
It has been an enormous challenge to handle the soaring demand for services when austere budgets have prevented the ability to hire or allocate additional staff. County governments across the state are looking for ways to cut costs while trying to maintain services to residents during this difficult economy.
Since many people may soon experience the end of their unemployment benefits, county agencies are bracing for a new spike in applications for public assistance programs.
The fact is more streamlining is desperately needed to cope with the number of applicants and customers. The 21 members of the County Welfare Directors Association of New Jersey have provided a series of recommendations to policy makers. Unfortunately, Food Stamps is a federal program with limited flexibility. Rest assured, we will continue to fight for common sense program improvements.
We appreciate the public’s support and patience as we continue to develop and propose new methods and innovations to deliver timely service during these extremely challenging times.
County Welfare Directors Association of New Jersey