Christie administration ends waiver for food stamp work requirement

By Brent Johnson and Samantha Marcus | NJ Advance Media for
on December 31, 2015

Gov. Chris Christie speaks about public safety during a press conference at Camden County Police Department Headquarters in Camden, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015.


TRENTON — About 11,000 New Jerseyans may have their food assistance discontinued after Gov. Chris Christie's administration said Thursday that the state is no longer offering a waiver from a work requirement in the program.

People across the U.S. are required to work at least 20 hours a week to receive subsidized food aid under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.

But because of the struggling economy, a waiver has been available since 2009 to allow "able-bodied" adults without dependents in the state to qualify for the aid without having a job.

New Jersey, however, is "ineligible" to continue the waiver because the state's economy has "improved dramatically," said Nicole Brossoie, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services.

The elimination of the waiver places a three-month limit on the length of time unemployed New Jerseyans can receive SNAP benefits.

Non-profit  and advocacy leaders said Thursday that while New Jersey is ineligible for the statewide waiver, it could have applied for countywide and municipal-wide waivers to target especially hard-hit communities.

"I think they've have looked at a waiver for at least Atlantic County," said Diane Rile, advocacy director for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey. "That is concerning for me because, as a food bank, we're going to get hit hard by this. We're going to have to brace for that and especially at our southern branch."

Raymond Castro, an analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective, said the administration's decision was a surprise.

"It's going to cause a great deal of harm to many of these individuals," Castro said. "It just seems like a cruel and unusual approach to low-income New Jerseyans."

The federal government said only states with a 10 percent unemployment rate or higher could participate in the statewide waiver, Brossoie said.

New Jersey's unemployment rate dropped to 5.3 percent in November.

Thursday's announcement also comes as Christie continues to seek the Republican nomination for president. The Associated Press was the first to report the news.

State Human Services Commissioner Elizabeth Connolly told the Associated Press that the 11,000 residents who could be affected are a small percentage of the 900,000 people who receive food stamps in New Jersey.

Brossoie added that the department will work with the state Labor and Workforce Development Department to find "a work activity that satisfies the federal requirement and allows them to progress to self-sufficiency."

Castro said while its unemployment rate is falling, New Jersey still ranks among the worst in long-term unemployment.

"There hasn't been any information released," he said. "There hasn't been anything to explain where they can go for this assistance. So the whole thing just seems terribly unplanned."

The change takes effect Friday in five counties: Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic, Somerset and Sussex. It begins Feb. 1 for the rest of the state.

New Jersey will join 10 other states without waivers — including Delaware, Iowa, Texas and Wyoming.

For a single person without dependent children to qualify for food aid in New Jersey, the maximum monthly income is $1,185. The top monthly benefit under the program is $194 a month.

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