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Bergen Residents Could Lose Food Assistance Under New Rule

The Center for Food Action anticipates having to step up its community donation efforts. Here the Stryker Hip Development Team assembles 500 snack packs.
The Center for Food Action anticipates having to step up its community donation efforts. Here the Stryker Hip Development Team assembles 500 snack packs. Photo Credit: Facebook

ENGLEWOOD, N.J. – Some 200 people in Bergen County stand to lose food assistance under a rule that took effect last month, Englewood hunger advocates say.

Able-bodied adults ages 18 to 49, without dependents, can continue to use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. But only if they work 20 hours a week or spend as much time in a state-approved job training or education program.

If they don’t, they’re only eligible for SNAP, formerly Food Stamps, for three months in a three-year period.

“That means that even if someone is actively looking for a job and unable to find one, they are cut off from food assistance when they need it most,” said Adele LaTourette, director of the Englewood-based New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition.

The news has the Center for Food Action, also in Englewood, brainstorming on how to meet increased need.

“We’re just going to have to work harder at finding more people to donate food,” said Jennifer Johnson, communications director. “This will definitely affect the number of times clients need to come or bring new clients to our doors.”

The rule is part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which went into effect under the Clinton Administration.

The federal government suspended the rule in 2008 because of widespread unemployment during the recession. The suspension expired last year.

Last month, the rule was reinstated in seven of New Jersey’s wealthier counties, including Bergen.

This summer, LaTourette said, it will be reinstated in other counties where unemployment is high.

“It’s been estimated 11,000 people statewide could be affected by this change,” said Lisa Pitz of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition. “One of our concerns is people losing their benefits and having absolutely no idea why.”

Nicole Brossoie of the state Department of Human Services said the able-bodied adults who qualify for the assistance comprise only 3 percent of the 900,000 state residents enrolled in SNAP.

“Many of them are already meeting the work requirement through their participation in the WorkFirst NJ General Assistance program,” she said.

Overall, 22,443 Bergen households used SNAP benefits last month, according to the county Board of Social Services.

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