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January 04, 2016

11,000 New Jerseyans could lose food stamp benefits

Chris Christie administration reinstates work requirements for certain adults

Around 11,000 people in New Jersey could lose federal food stamp benefits if they do not find a job soon, as the state has reinstated work requirements for certain adults.

As reported, Gov. Chris Christie's administration announced the change on New Year's Eve, and it went into effect in five counties the very next day. The change will go into effect on Feb. 1 for the rest of the state, and it affects less than two percent of Jersey's 900,000 food stamp recipients. 

Normally, federal rules state that some adults — those who are able-bodied, younger than 50 and have no dependents — must work at least 20 hours a week or be enrolled in certain training programs to qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. Otherwise, the benefits will run out after three months. Because of the recession, however, the government has allowed states to waive that rule since 2009.

Now, the economy is good enough for New Jersey to go back to the old rules.

"The federal government deemed NJ ineligible for the statewide waiver for work requirements for [able-bodied adults without dependents] because of its low unemployment rate," said Human Services spokesperson Nicole Brossoie to PhillyVoice. 

New Jersey's unemployment rate was at 5.3 percent as of November, and the waiver is supposed to be used for states with an unemployment rate greater than 10 percent. Although New Jersey's unemployment rate has been under that threshold for many years, the state "waited to ensure that its unemployment rate and other economic factors were consistent before taking this important step," said Brossoie. 

However, advocates argued that New Jersey could still apply for waivers in specific counties or cities with high unemployment.

"I think they (should) have looked at a waiver for at least Atlantic County," Diane Riley, advocacy director for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, told "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."

The unemployment rate in Atlantic County is at 7.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, preliminary data shows that Atlantic City had an unemployment rate of 11 percent as of November.

Ocean City is also struggling, with unemployment at 12.6 percent. Newark, Camden and Trenton, however, all see unemployment in the single digits.

Brian Murray, a spokesperson for the Governor's office, told PhillyVoice why places like Atlantic City wouldn't get an exception: "Rather than piecemeal New Jersey’s compliance with a federal work requirement for SNAP benefits, the administration is moving these able-bodied individuals into work programs that will help them to either maintain benefits or, better yet, move on to being independent, productive individuals free from the need for assistance,” he said.

The state's Department of Labor and Workforce Development said in a statement that "programs will be designed to assist [affected adults] to find employment or satisfy the federal work requirement as they search for work."