By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
Edith Ambert is among the more than 800,000 people in New Jersey who receive food stamps, also known as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. She says applying for her benefits was not easy.
“It took a long time because I had to bring a lot of papers,” Ambert said. “And after I applied, I had to wait for a long time. And every time I called, they would never take the phone.”
Her story is not unique. New Jersey processes SNAP applications within the 30-day legal requirement about 74 percent of the time, according the USDA, which administers the program.
“No, I wasn’t surprised,” said Community FoodBank of New Jersey Director of Advocacy Diane Riley.
That’s because Riley knows the challenges applicants face because her staff helped to process 1,600 applications last year.
“We do about 130 applications a month, talk to probably double that. But then we try to track it and we try to call people and see how they did with the interview, were they able to get food stamps or SNAP and a lot of people after a month still haven’t actually been processed,” Riley said.
No one from the New Jersey Department of Human Services was available to comment on camera. But a spokesperson points out that SNAP benefits are administered by each county and each county has different administrative procedures around supervision and staffing. But she says the state is working closely with counties to improve processing timeliness.
“They’ve made some significant changes — phone interviews, mailing in documents, various things that actually are helping to process people faster, but they really need more staff and that’s the crux. And it does cost more money so people are gonna look to do that last,” Riley said.
And with demand for food stamps more than doubling since 2008, Riley says corrective action is needed as soon as possible because there are so many people hit hard by the economy who depend on food stamps to survive.
“Every time we talk to someone and they say, ‘I don’t have enough food to eat,’ wouldn’t it matter to you if it took 30 or 60 days or 90 days to actually get that money in your pocket to actually buy food?” Riley asked.
“I think this would make it easier, especially because there’s a lot of people that are old and people with children that go the whole day. It’s very hard for them,” Ambert said.
She hopes her message will get government officials to take action.