68,000 New Jerseyans At Risk of Losing SNAP Benefits

Trump Adminstration Proposed Rule Would Make it Harder for Those Impacted by Poverty to Afford Food; Increase Risk of Homelessness

The Trump administration has published a proposed rule in the Federal Register on that would end “broad-based categorical eligibility” for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP.) If the proposed rule is implemented, about 3.1 million low-income people would be kicked off the program, and 500,000 children would no longer qualify for free school meals.

The proposed rule change would make it harder for struggling people to put food on the table. In New Jersey, an estimated 68,000 residents would lose this critical food aid.

According to a December 2018 Center on Budget and Policy Priority (CBPP) fact sheet, in FY 2017, one in eleven NJ (818,000) residents accessed SNAP benefits.

“Changing the way eligibility is calculated for programs should improve the measurement to more accurately quantify the nearly 40% of New Jerseyans who are working poor or below the Federal Poverty Level. Change should not shrink the number of people counted and who receives assistance to meet basic needs, ” said Renee Koubiadis, Executive Director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey (APN.)

“In addition, this proposal assumes that people can ‘tighten their belts’ with expenses. However, many people struggling to afford food in our state are already shopping at places where basic items are at their lowest cost. Through this proposed rule, assistance for food, housing, Medicaid and other basic needs will be cut off for many. More families, seniors, and people with disabilities would be pushed deeper into poverty and we will see an increase homelessness.”

The New Jerseyans who would lose their SNAP benefits include working families with children, seniors and people with disabilities. According to CBPP, more than 67% of SNAP participants are in families with children and almost 36% are in families with members who are elderly or have disabilities. Without SNAP benefits to supplement limited incomes, many individuals and families may be forced to make the hard decision of whether or not to pay for rent? Or put food on their tables?

The proposed rule would put particularly vulnerable populations at potentially a greater risk of homelessness.

“The change also would penalize families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities who have modest savings by eliminating their food assistance,” writes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Robert Greenstein in a July 23, 2019 CBPP Policy Statement. “Building modest assets allows low-income families to avoid accumulating debt and to be better financially prepared for old age and unforeseen events, such as a home or car repair or the loss of a job in a recession. It is especially important for seniors and people with disabilities who live on fixed incomes, whose savings can help them avert a financial crisis or weather an emergency that would otherwise push them deeper into poverty or could lead to homelessness.”

For low-income families with incomes modestly above SNAP benefit limits, broad-based categorical eligibility standards allow SNAP-administering agencies to consider expenses that make up a large share of income.  These expenses include those such as rent, utilities, and childcare, when determining benefit eligibility and amounts.

Currently, states are able to opt-out of federal asset testing limits and adopt their own less restrictive asset tests for eligibility. Children in families receiving SNAP benefits automatically qualify for free school lunches.  This automatic enrollment in the school lunch program ensures that children in low-income families can receive nutritious meals during the school day.  If their families lose their SNAP benefits, the families would need to complete all of the necessary paperwork to re-enroll in the school lunch program.  If the family is experiencing homelessness or at-risk of homelessness, this school lunch application would become just one more form to fill out.  

Want to take action? Public comments on the proposed rule are now being accepted. And the Center for Food Action is making it easy for you to take action.

The Food Research & Action Center has set up a web page that makes it very easy to submit comments opposing this proposed rule. 

The more people speaking up against this damaging proposal, the better our chances are of once again protecting this critical food assistance for millions of Americans including the 68,000 New Jerseyans at risk.

Homelessness and hunger more often than not go hand in hand.  On the night of January 22, 2019, NJCounts 2019, the statewide Point-in-Time count, found a total of 6,748 households, including 8,864 persons, experiencing homelessness in New Jersey. Many of these households may be receiving SNAP and that assistance helping them put food on the table is critical. If families experiencing homelessness lose their SNAP benefits, finding rent they can afford when they get off of housing waiting lists, will be even harder.

According to the ACTION Campaign, in New Jersey, 308,137 renter households pay more than half of their monthly income on rent, leaving too little for other expenses like health care, transportation and nutritious food.

According to CBPP, SNAP kept 155,000 people out of poverty in New Jersey, including 77,000 children, per year between 2009 and 2012, on average. If these people slide into poverty, they then may also face risk of homelessness.

Are you or your family eligible for SNAP benefits?  Click here to learn more about how you can apply for SNAP benefits in New Jersey.