These are prepared remarks to be delivered to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee on S-993 this morning.
Requiring the Department of Human Services to apply for a waiver for New Jerseyans living in high unemployment areas of the state, as Senator Vitale’s bill would do, would prevent some of the poorest residents of New Jersey from needlessly going hungry, or hungrier. And, every dime required would come from the federal government.
According to the Department’s own estimates, 11,000 adults may lose SNAP benefits for three years unless they are placed in the right work activities within three months, due to the ending of a statewide waiver on December 31. But the Department won’t guarantee that such training and job opportunities will be made available by the state. In fact, just a week ago state officials said they were trying to get approval from the federal government for a new work activity called “workfare.” But it’s too little, too late: the clock is ticking on the three-month limit that started January 1 in many counties, but it is only now that the state is planning for the necessary work activities, despite the fact that it has known about this for about a year.
There is no excuse for this inaction, which will have catastrophic results. The longer these New Jerseyans can’t participate in training, the closer they get to the three-month limit, which cuts them off from nutritional benefits for three full years. Worse still, the time is cumulative over a three-year period. In other words, if a person spends two months this winter out of work activities, and then one month in the fall of 2017, they will lose their benefits. And even worse, the state failed to seek federal approval for New Jersey to require work in a way that does not result in an overly harsh three-year penalty, an option under regulations that strengthens the need for this bill’s enactment.
Department officials emphasize that the federal government won’t allow New Jersey to continue with the statewide waiver it’s had for the last six years. While that is correct, it is only part of the story. New Jersey is still allowed to apply for local waivers in areas with high unemployment, which would cover the approximately 80 percent of the people losing benefits who live in 15 counties and five additional municipalities. For the state to willingly worsen the plight of struggling New Jerseyans is an indefensible policy that borders on the immoral. Legislators should do everything in their power to force the state to reverse course.