Senator Raymond Lesniak on Monday introduced a resolution directing Governor Chris Christie to tap unused energy funds to prevent the loss of food aid to the needy, a move that would protect them from having food stamps cut by as much as $90 a month because of a rule change in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The formula for the “Heat & Eat” program, that uses heating assistance for the poor to determine qualification for food stamps, was changed by Congress to require payments of at least $21 a year for recipients to continue to receive full SNAP benefits. By spending $3.2 million in federal funds in the state’s energy assistance program, New Jersey would continue to qualify for the additional $53 million to feed those in need.
“Congress has taken food off the table of families already struggling to make ends meet,” said Senator Lesniak, who submitted a budget resolution to provide the needed funds that was vetoed by the governor. “Hunger in America is a real problem and it is just as real in New Jersey. An estimated 160,000 families could lose as much as $90 a month in food aid. That is unconscionable.”
Senator Lesniak just completed a week-long “Food Stamp Challenge,” when he lived on $4.20 a day for food, matching the amount SNAP recipients receive.
“Of the 15 states affected by the Heat & Eat program, eight have already acted to prevent these cuts from taking place,” said Senator Shirley Turner, who sponsored legislation vetoed by the governor to preserve the food aid. “New Jersey should do the same. This would be a smart and compassionate way to prevent the problem of hunger and food insecurity from being made worse.”
Under the federal Agriculture Act of 2014, households must receive more than $20 annually in energy assistance to maintain eligibility for full SNAP benefits.
“These are the most vulnerable people in the state, including families with children who often don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Senator Joe Vitale, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “It’s also good for the economy. The federal dollars spent on food can generate as much as $300 million in economic activity.”
Senator Lesniak said he will work to get every senator to sign-on to the resolution, Democrats and Republicans. Concurrent resolutions do not go to the governor for approval.
The bill vetoed by the governor had been approved 36 – 1 by the Senate and 60 – 13 – 6 by the Assembly.