Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) sent a letter to Governor Chris Christie urging his administration to take substantial steps in order to improve access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in the State of New Jersey. This comes in response to an advance warning issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week regarding New Jersey's poor SNAP application processing performance. The program provides basic nutrition assistance to qualifying low-income Americans, including senior citizens and children, and has largely eliminated severe hunger and malnutrition in the United States.
The Department of Agriculture notified the State that, due to the failure of New Jersey Department of Human Services (NJDHS) to process SNAP applications in a timely manner, it could suspend federal funding for New Jersey SNAP administrative expenses if significant improvements were not made. USDA data shows that New Jersey currently ranks 52nd among 53 state agencies for timeliness of processing SNAP applications.
"The wait times that struggling families in New Jersey are facing when applying for SNAP benefits are absolutely unacceptable," said Congressman Pallone. "SNAP is our nation's most important anti-hunger safety net program, and we must do better to ensure that New Jerseyans have access to these benefits. We need to improve the application process so that New Jersey families can efficiently access the benefits that they need in order to put food on the table. I look forward to working with Governor Christie in order to see that these improvements are made."
Pallone has been an outspoken supporter of SNAP. Currently, nearly one in seven Americans rely on SNAP to help cover the cost of their meals. According to the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, about 897,376 people were living below poverty level in New Jersey in 2011. The food insecurity level in the state was 12.7% overall and 19% for children, meaning 394,240 children were living in food insecure households.
The full text of the letter is below:
July 8, 2014
Governor Chris Christie
P.O. Box 001
Trenton, NJ 08625
Dear Governor Christie,
I write today regarding the failure of the New Jersey Department of Human Services (NJDHS) to process Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applications in a timely manner. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent an advance warning to the State of New Jersey that it would begin suspending federal funding for New Jersey SNAP administrative expenses if significant improvements to the processing of these applications are not made.
By providing modest financial benefits to help struggling families put food on the table, SNAP is our country's primary anti-hunger safety net program. Nearly one in seven Americans rely on SNAP to help cover the cost of their meals. It is critical that SNAP beneficiaries in New Jersey have the ability to efficiently and effectively access the benefits they need to help feed their families.
I am extremely concerned by New Jersey's poor SNAP application processing performance. USDA data shows that New Jersey ranks 52nd among 53 state agencies for timeliness of application processing. Ensuring SNAP applicants get timely access to benefits when they apply is critical to fighting hunger in New Jersey and throughout the country.
According to the letter, USDA is requiring NJDHS to submit a corrective action plan to address these issues. I would like to inquire as to what issues have led to this poor performance and how NJDHS plans to expedite application processing for potential SNAP beneficiaries. The letter indicated that NJDHS is working to replace its outdated application processing system, however I believe New Jersey must immediately work to make improvements to this process regardless of the timetable for an updated eligibility system.
I am a strong supporter of the SNAP program and wish to work with you, NJDHS and USDA in any way possible to ensure that New Jersey families are provided timely access to SNAP benefits. Thank you for your attention to this important matter and please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of assistance.
FRANK PALLONE, JR.
Member of Congress