Without SNAP benefits, 52-year-old Sharon Horne says she doesn’t know how she’d feed her two teenage daughters.
“You can’t survive off the food pantry for a month, because with the benefits, the SNAP, is good,” she said.
She’s worried about an upcoming congressional vote for the so-called farm bill. The legislation would revamp policy and funding for nutrition programs like SNAP, often called food stamps. Social service advocates gathered at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen Wednesday said it’ll strip the benefit from thousands of New Jerseyans.
“If families don’t comply within one month, then they will be cut off from SNAP, and then getting back onto the program will be very, very difficult,” said Adele LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition.
If it passes, the farm bill will lower income limits for eligibility. Currently a family of four earning $45,000 a year qualifies for help, but that number will decrease by about 130 percent, meaning that same family of four will only qualify if they’re making roughly $32,000 a year or less. In New Jersey, it’s estimated about 35,000 recipients could lose benefits.
“I’m very concerned if that program is cut,” said Joyce Campbell, executive director of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. “I think we’re going to see a lot more people here, not just here because they need to eat, but because they’re also going to be struggling with what’s happened to them.”
The bill will require most adults ages 18 to 59 to work at least 20 hours a week to be eligible for food assistance, or be enrolled in some type of training or education program. The problem is, advocates say that’s a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t work for everyone.
“Despite what many may believe, a large population of our clientele are working and have jobs, but are simple not earning enough to sustain their own households,” said Michelle Acevedo, Camden County Board of Social Services human service specialist.
Actually, about 80 percent of New Jersey SNAP recipients have jobs. A better breakdown of recipients shows roughly 750,000 New Jersey residents receive the benefit. Out of that, nearly 300,000 are children — that’s about one in five in New Jersey.
“We’ll have 88,000 additional people who will be mandated to be in employment training and work, and we have a total of, I believe the number is 5,800 slots for them to go in to,” said LaTourette.
“How can we accommodate clients if there aren’t enough work training programs to place them in, and then we penalize them for it,” said Acevedo.
“Honestly, if you can’t find a job and you’re not working right away, and even if you are working, you have to wait for that first paycheck. Meanwhile, what do you eat? You can’t eat anything. You don’t have the money for it,” said SNAP recipient Brendan Buckman.
It’s unclear how New Jersey congressional delegates plan to vote, and so far it seems to be along party lines. Rep. Tom MacArthur is a likely yes but is pushing an amendment aimed at protecting kids, even if their parents lose the benefit.
“This bill is beyond amendment help,” LaTourette added. “I think we need them to vote no.”
The bill could be posted for a vote as early as Friday.