$1M food assistance cut will endanger 862,000 New Jerseyans, advocates warn

TRENTON – Thursday is Halloween, time for trick or treat. Friday is when a cruel trick gets played on nearly 1 million residents who will suffer a cut to their federal food stamps.

On Nov. 1 what was meant as a temporary increase to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will expire, a $90 million across-the-board chop that will translate to about $29 less per family a month, or roughly 20 meals for such family recipients.

“For these families, this is their only source of income for food,’’ said Raymond Castro of N.J. Policy Perspective as advocates on Wednesday sought to draw attention to the approaching superstorm of hunger.

“We can’t make this up, we’re stretched to the limit as it is,” said Diane Riley, director of Advocacy for  The Community Food Bank of New Jersey.  “There’s no way charity can (pick up the slack); the SNAP program is way too important in the grand scheme of the safety net.”

The SNAP benefits increase was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act designed to help lift the country quickly out of the Great Recession.

But the food stamp cutback will affect 862,000 New Jerseyans, including 415,000 children, advocates said today.

The average per-household benefit in New Jersey is about $267, and SNAP recipients already have begun to receive notifications.

“They are bringing letters to us and asking us to explain to them, but options are very few,’’ Riley said.

Food banks can show people how to stretch their already thin paychecks even more, but the reality is parents will go hungry in order to feed children, or they will turn to less expensive, less nutritious meals, advocates said.

“We already know they make choices in paying rent, paying utilities, paying for gas to go to work. This really is undermining the work force and the family. We’re not talking about something insignificant here,” Riley said.

The Nov. 1 cut comes at the same time that Congress is considering legislation that would cut SNAP by $40 billion over 10 years.

“It shouldn’t be so surprising that hunger is a bigger issue in our state,’’ Castro said. He pointed out that New Jersey is one of only five states whose poverty rate increased for families, and where one in four residents is living in poverty.

The SNAP caseload increased by 6 percent in the last 12 months, compared to a national rate of increase of 2 percent, the advocates said.

“Banks and Wall Street are doing well,’’ Castro said. “Productivity is up, but it is not trickling down to average New Jerseyans.’’

$1M food assistance cut will endanger 862,000 New Jerseyans, advocates warn