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Letter to the Hon. Sonny Perdue, Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture - Booker, Menendez Lead NJ Lawmakers in Opposing USDA Proposal to Restrict SNAP Benefits

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We are writing to express our opposition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) proposal to undermine "broad-based categorical eligibility" (BBCE) and subsequently eliminate nutritional assistance for an estimated 68,000 New Jerseyans. This proposed rule to restrict benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) not only further burdens struggling Americans, but flouts the will of Congress. We urge you to withdraw the proposed rule.

Recent data shows that roughly 1 million New Jerseyans are living in food-insecure households. To address the needs of these struggling families, New Jersey is one of more than 40 states and territories that allow individuals to become automatically eligible for SNAP assistance if they already receive non-cash benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. BBCE is a critical option in the fight against food insecurity as it allows states like New Jersey to provide SNAP to individuals and families who receive a non-cash TANF benefit making more than 130 percent of the poverty level, but who still face difficulty in making ends meet due to factors such as high costs of housing and childcare. By utilizing this option, New Jersey is able to better serve these working families while also lowering administrative costs.

BBCE, as currently employed, allows for working families, seniors, and disabled individuals to maintain modest savings while working to become financially independent and avoiding debt. You recently stated that it was the administration's job "to make sure folks have the tools they need to move away from SNAP dependency and back towards self-sufficiency." BBCE does just that. By USDA's own estimation, if enacted, this rule would have a negative impact on food security while also reducing the savings rates among individuals who are no longer eligible. Working families should not have to choose between saving for the future and putting food on the table.

Of the 688,557 New Jerseyans who received SNAP benefits this year thus far, 320,434 were children. This modest nutritional assistance creates an important foundation for children to excel, particularly in the classroom. Yet in order to determine whether a student is eligible for free school meals, schools rely upon SNAP enrollment data. If enacted, the proposed rule will result in New Jersey households not only losing current SNAP benefits, but children losing access to free school meals. Again, such an outcome does not appear to be in line with moving families towards self-sufficiency, but rather punishing families and children with low-incomes.

If the administration chooses to enact this policy, tens of thousands of New Jerseyans will be forced to make the unwelcome choice between saving for the future and feeding their families today. The proposed rule runs counter to the intent of Congress to provide nutrition assistance to those in need. In fact, the most recent bipartisan Farm Bill passed by an overwhelming majority in both chambers of Congress and rejected attempts by the Administration to undermine the program. As such, we urge you to reconsider and rescind this current proposal. We appreciate your consideration and attention to this matter.

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