Five bills focused on the well-being of the state’s family and college student segments, aimed at easing access to food resources, recently passed Assembly committees.
All seek to increase awareness of and easy access to benefits offered through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
SNAP provides direct benefits to purchase food at participating retailers. But reports show that the state’s participation in SNAP is very low, with New Jersey’s participation in the program ranked at 33rd in 2017.
Greater Outreach to College Students
Legislation calling for the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS) to create an outreach plan to raise SNAP awareness among college students has passed in the Assembly Human Services Committee. Co-sponsors Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), Benjie Wimberly (D-35) and Joann Downey (D-11) seek to reduce hunger on college campuses and ease food insecurities.
“Food insecurity impacts people of all ages, genders, races and creeds. Unfortunately, college students are no exception,” said Vainieri Huttle. “Students who are food insecure are more likely to fail exams, withdraw from classes or miss out on professional development opportunities. No student should ever go hungry, especially to the point that it affects their academic success.”
Under A-1003, DHS, in conjunction with the state’s Secretary of Higher Education, would increase outreach efforts to students on SNAP, including compiling and distributing information on eligibility, benefits and application procedures
“Every day, SNAP helps lift people out of poverty and boosts their overall health and well-being. However, students in need cannot take advantage of the program if they don’t know it’s there,” said Wimberly. “The first step to combating hunger on college campuses is to raise awareness of vital resources like SNAP.”
In addition, information on SNAP would be distributed to those whose are likely to qualify for SNAP, including students from low-income households, students with disabilities, employed students or nontraditional students.
“A staggering 48% of students at two-year colleges and 41% at four-year institutions reported experiencing food insecurity in the past 30 days in a 2019 study,” said Downey. “It’s heartbreaking to think that so many students aren’t sure where there next meal will come from. Raising awareness for SNAP will help more students have access to healthy foods and reduce hunger on campuses.”
A-1003 now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.
Waiver for College Students
Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-25) introduced a bill that will help economically disadvantaged college students qualify for SNAP.
A-4168 would authorize college students who receive assistance from the state’s Educational Opportunity Fund to obtain SNAP benefits, regardless of whether the student satisfies the 20-hour weekly work requirement.
“These students are working hard to educate themselves and to build a better life for their future and they can’t be effective in doing that when they are without access to good food,” said Dunn. “The state can and should seek a narrow waiver of federal rules to help these hard-working students have the resources to survive and thrive.”
The Assembly Human Services Committee passed the bill 7-0, and it now awaits action from the full Assembly.
Ease Family Access to SNAP
Additionally, Downey sponsored two bills focused on providing families with easier access to SNAP benefits.
“As we continue to grapple with COVID-19 and a nationwide recession, access to food assistance as never been more important,” said Downey. “In these challenging times, no family should have to worry where their next meal will come from.”
The first bill would require DHS to conduct a survey every two years of county welfare agencies to evaluate applicants and beneficiaries’ experiences with SNAP. The second bill would require DHS to conduct public outreach campaigns to help individuals who are not U.S. citizens learn how SNAP participation may or may not impact their future citizenship or adjustment of status.
Expanded Family Dynamic
The final bill, sponsored by Vainieri Huttle along with Mila Jasey (D-27) and Annette Quijano (D-20), seeks to provide assistance to children who are being raised by individuals other than their parents.
“There are countless children in New Jersey and across the country who rely on the healthy, nutritious breakfast and lunch they get served in school through federal meals programs,” the three lawmakers said in a press statement.
The bill calls on President Donald Trump and Congress to enact the CARE for Kids Act of 2019, which would automatically expand eligibility for free meals to students in the care of their grandparents or other family members. The trio said if enacted, it would provide food security for children who’ve recently left foster care and for those who’ve found home with relatives, ensuring fewer gaps in access to nutrition