NJ Gov Christie Vetoes Food Stamps Extension Bill, Costing Low Income Families $90/Month

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation late last week that would have used an expansion of federal heating aid to prevent cuts in federal food assistance to about 159,000 New Jersey families.
The bill — A2956/S1893 — was a response to changes in federal rules adopted earlier this year with the passage of the federal farm bill. The new rules altered eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the largest federal nutrition program.

As reported in July in NJ Spotlight, the farm bill eliminated a utility allowance claimed by low-income renters who do not pay their own utility bills. In New Jersey, they had been given a minimal amount of utility aid under the federal Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program, which allowed them to claim a utility deduction against their income for qualification purposes. The change, which went into effect July 1, affects about a third of all families on SNAP in New Jersey and is expected to average about $90 a month.

Emergency food agencies said in July that the cuts would strain already-stressed agencies and were hoping for passage of the bill or an administrative fix.

In his veto statement, Christie said he is committed to aiding the state' slow-income residents but that the legislation was contrary to federal law and likely unenforceable. He vetoed budget language in June that would have done the same thing as A2956.

The bill and the budget provision, as I wrote in July, would have increased LIHEAP stipends to a minimum of...

...$21 annually so that they could qualify for the energy allowance under SNAP. The resolution was not attached to specific spending, but called for the expanded LIHEAP program to be paid for through unspent federal and state utility aid. LIHEAP funding is given to states as a block grant and states administer the grants and set parameters for distribution. Many states have been making nominal payments to people living in rental facilities whose rents cover their utility costs.

A companion bill (A-2956/S-1893] passed both houses of the Legislature and awaits action by the governor. It passed 36-1 in the Senate and 60-13 in the Assembly and was sponsored by Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) and Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) in the upper chamber and Gabriela Mosquera (D-Gloucester), Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), Gary Schaer (D-Bergen), Mila Jasey (D-Essex), and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) in the lower.

Turner responded to the veto in a press release by calling it shortsighted.

This bill is critical given that New Jersey’s low-income families are already struggling to pay for the bare essentials, like heat and food. A $90 per month reduction in nutrition benefits is a devastating loss for low-income households, especially since the cost of food and utilities have skyrocketed. Struggling working families and senior citizens will be forced to choose whether to heat or eat.


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