It’s Time to Restore Food Assistance for Hundreds of Thousands of New Jerseyans

The following are prepared remarks delivered today to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

New Jersey Policy Perspective strongly supports restoring critical food assistance to up to 160,000 Garden State households that include tens of thousands of seniors, people with disabilities and children, as S-839 does. Tragically, over the last three years, New Jersey lost up to $450 million in federal funds for nutritional assistance because the previous administration refused to tie energy assistance to SNAP benefits as permitted by federal law. Here are four major reasons why New Jersey should restore what are known as “Heat and Eat” benefits.

1. Many of New Jersey’s Most Vulnerable Residents Are Affected

Up to 160,000 New Jersey households who lost meals due to the failure to restore Heat and Eat were already hurting due to other SNAP cutbacks. This made it impossible for many of them to eat regular, balanced meals. Households with seniors and people with disabilities are hurt the most because of the way SNAP benefits are calculated. The average person receiving SNAP benefits now sees a paltry $1.29 a meal. Obviously, this is a big problem in a high-cost state like New Jersey. A recent study found that there are counties in New Jersey where the average meal cost is up to 63 percent greater than the SNAP benefit.

2. It Would Benefit New Jersey’s Economy

Restoring the Heat and Eat program would bring up to $50 in benefits for every dollar invested. Continuing to opt out makes no economic sense. If the state spends about $3 million to increase its annual energy assistance payment to $21 per household, it would generate up to $150 million in new SNAP benefits. The impact on the state’s economy, however, would be even greater because every dollar of SNAP benefits generates almost twice that in economic activity. Thus, restoring Heat and Eat would increase economic activity by up to $260 million, thereby creating many jobs.

3. It Would Increase Sorely Needed State Tax Revenues

Restoring the Heat and Eat program would also increase state tax revenues at a time when New Jersey is once again struggling to balance its budget. While groceries are not taxed in New Jersey, many other items are. If benefits increase, New Jerseyans who rely on SNAP would spend more on other taxable goods instead of food.

4. Most of the Other States That Had Heat and Eat Programs Have Already Restored Them

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia were affected by the Heat and Eat provision in the 2014 Farm bill; nine of them have already restored their programs by increasing their energy assistance payment – including New Jersey’s neighbors New York and Pennsylvania. Most of them restored their programs soon after the federal Farm bill was enacted to avoid unnecessary hunger and realize greater economic gains. It’s time that New Jersey finally join them.