A new report finds that 15,000 New Jersey veterans rely on SNAP, a federal assistance program to put food on the table.
“SNAP is the supplemental nutrition program. It’s a federal nutrition program. It’s important because it’s really the first line of defense against hunger in our state and our country,” said Lisa Pitz, outreach director for Hunger Free New Jersey. “It allows people to use their benefits to purchase healthy food to feed themselves and their families.”
Pitz says many veterans that depend on food assistance programs aren’t homeless — they’re stably housed and working. However, staff at the Center For Food Action in Englewood say identifying veterans isn’t always easy.
“I think a lot of veterans are not comfortable sharing that they are veterans. So we may not necessarily know which of our clients are veterans. I think that there is some shame there,” said Michele Lefkowitz, regional site manager for the center. “They are embarrassed to come. We don’t get the whole picture until maybe they come a few times and we get to know them a little more and they’re more willing to share with us.”
According to the report, young male veterans have higher unemployment rates then similar civilians, which can make it harder for them to afford enough to eat.
“I think it’s difficult sometimes to transition back into civilian life. Often times, they struggle to find work or can only find low-wage work, or come back with disabilities and it makes it difficult,” Pitz said. “The last thing anyone that served this country should worry about, is how they’re going to put food on the table.”
A nightmare that could become a reality for tens of thousands of veterans if proposed cuts to food programs like SNAP are passed under a new version of the farm bill, that expired in September.
In the current version of the bill pregnant women, the elderly and the disabled are exempt from employment requirements in order to receive benefits. But now President Trump is calling for stricter work requirements, that are projected to cut SNAP enrollment by as many 1 million people and reduce the cost of SNAP by $20 billion over 10 years.
“So you’re going to see, it’s estimated that about 35,000 low-income New Jersey residents that rely on SNAP to put food on the table will actually lose their benefits altogether. We are going to see a lot of people are struggling to find work, who will also lose their benefits,” said Pitz. “What that means is you are going to see more instances of hunger and food insecurity and a higher demand of food pantries and soup kitchens. While those organization do a phenomenal job, they just can’t keep up with that level of demand.”
The Senate’s draft of the farm bill does not include the work requirements or cuts to SNAP. The bill is currently stalled, but with Democrats securing a House majority in the midterm elections, Republicans may be motivated to reach a consensus before the end of the year.