SENATE, No. 2876

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

217th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED JANUARY 9, 2017

 


 

Sponsored by:

Senator  JOSEPH F. VITALE

District 19 (Middlesex)

Senator  JIM WHELAN

District 2 (Atlantic)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Senator Turner

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Requires DHS to take appropriate action to exempt veterans from benefits time limit applicable to able-bodied adults without dependents under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


An Act concerning benefits limitations under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and supplementing Title 44 of the Revised Statutes.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.    The Legislature finds and declares the following:

     a.     The federal “Food and Nutrition Act of 2008,” Pub.L.110-246 (7 U.S.C. s.2011 et seq.), prohibits able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) from obtaining food assistance benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly known as the “Food Stamp Program”) for more than three months in a three year period, unless the ABAWDs are actively employed, or are participating in a work or workfare program, or are exempted from these special ABAWD work requirements.

     b.    A state may obtain a federal waiver of the SNAP benefits time limit for a particular group of ABAWDs, if the United States Secretary of Agriculture determines that the area in which the individuals reside (either throughout the State, or in a particular area of the State) has an unemployment rate of over 10 percent, or does not have a sufficient number of jobs to provide employment for the individuals.

     c.     Each state also has broad discretion to grant individual exemptions from the SNAP benefits time limit, as the state sees fit, provided that the number of exemptions does not exceed 15 percent of the total number of ABAWDs in the state who are ineligible for food assistance benefits as a result of the benefits time limit.  This is known as the “15 percent exemption.”

     d.    During the economic downturn that resulted from the Great Recession, requests for statewide waivers of the SNAP benefits time limit were consistently approved by the Secretary of Agriculture for many different states, including New Jersey.

     e.     However, as a result of the recent economic upturn and nationwide recovery from the Great Recession, the federal Department of Agriculture has indicated that fewer states will now be able to satisfy the economic criteria necessary to qualify for waiver of the SNAP benefits time limit on a statewide basis.

     f.     In New Jersey, the most recent Statewide waiver of the SNAP benefits time limit expired in 2016, although the State is still approved for partial waivers that are applicable in certain specific areas of the State.

     g.    Although New Jersey’s Statewide economy and job market have generally improved in the years since the Great Recession began, and preliminary estimates from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the State’s general unemployment rate, as of October 2016, has declined to 5.2 percent, the unemployment rate among the State’s veteran population remains unusually high. 

     h.    In early 2016, the United States Department of Labor released a report, which found that veterans in New Jersey suffered from a nearly 11 percent unemployment rate in 2015 – a rate that is almost double the national average of 5.8 percent unemployment for this group of people.

     i.     Veterans face a number of unique challenges in securing appropriate employment, and they have reported, in particular, that it is often difficult to translate their military skills to a civilian environment; that it is often difficult to overcome the physical and mental health challenges stemming from service time, as necessary to transition to civilian employment; that there are cultural barriers to employment, in that some employers do not understand military culture, and are either less inclined to hire veterans, or have an overt bias against the hiring of veterans; that veterans often lack the educational history necessary to satisfy employment prerequisites, and additionally have insufficient resume writing and networking experience; that veterans have had less time in the workforce than other applicants for the same positions; and that veterans lack sufficient support systems to aid them in finding and applying for appropriate work. 

     j.     The limited and inconsistent availability of work and workfare programs throughout the State further imposes a hardship on New Jersey’s veterans and makes it more difficult for this group of individuals to comply with the special work requirements necessary for ABAWDs to qualify for food assistance benefits beyond the three-month initial benefits period.

     k.    The courageous men and women who have served this State and nation as members of the armed forces should not be denied assistance in obtaining a basic necessity like food, particularly when this group faces unique challenges in finding appropriate work, and continues to suffer from a high level of unemployment in New Jersey. 

     l.     It is, therefore, both reasonable and necessary for the State to take appropriate action to exempt veterans in New Jersey from the three-month SNAP benefits time limit that is applicable to ABAWDs.

 

     2.    As used in this act:

     “ABAWD veteran” means a veteran who is categorized as an able-bodied adult without dependents for the purposes of obtaining SNAP food assistance benefits. 

     “Commissioner” means the Commissioner of Human Services.  

     “SNAP” means the New Jersey Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, established pursuant to the federal “Food and Nutrition Act of 2008,” Pub.L.110-246 (7 U.S.C. s.2011 et seq.).

     “SNAP benefits time limit” means the three-month time limit, described in 7 U.S.C. s.2015(o)(2) and 7 C.F.R. 273.24(b), after which an ABAWD who is not in compliance with special work requirements will become ineligible for the continued receipt of SNAP food assistance benefits.

     “Veteran” means a citizen of New Jersey who has provided wartime or non-wartime service in, and has been honorably discharged from, any branch of the United States armed services, including the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, or National Guard.

 

     3.    a. The Commissioner of Human Services shall take appropriate action, in accordance with the provisions of this section, to exempt SNAP-eligible ABAWD veterans from the three-month SNAP benefits time limit that would otherwise be applicable thereto under the federal “Food and Nutrition Act of 2008,” Pub.L.110-246 (7 U.S.C. s.2011 et seq.). 

     b.    Within 60 days after the effective date of this act, the commissioner shall submit a request to the United States Secretary of Agriculture, as authorized by 7 U.S.C. s.2015(o)(4) and 7 C.F.R. 273.24(f), seeking a federal waiver of the SNAP benefits time limit for ABAWD veterans on a Statewide basis.  If the waiver request is approved, the commissioner shall submit a request for renewal of the Statewide waiver on an annual basis thereafter. 

     c.     If the Secretary of Agriculture denies a request for federal waiver or waiver renewal, which has been submitted pursuant to subsection b. of this section, the commissioner shall use the State’s 15 percent exemption authority, as provided by 7 U.S.C. s.2015(o)(6) and 7 C.F.R. 273.24(g), to grant each SNAP-eligible ABAWD veteran in the State an individual exemption from the SNAP benefits time limit. 

 

     4.    a.  Within 180 days after the effective date of this act, the commissioner shall assess all ABAWD veterans in the State to determine whether they are physically or mentally unfit for employment, and shall refer them for further services, as deemed to be appropriate, based on that assessment. 

     b.    As provided by 7 U.S.C. s.2015(o)(3)(B) and 7 C.F.R. 273.24(c)(2), if the commissioner determines that an ABAWD veteran is medically certified as being physically or mentally unfit for employment, such veteran shall no longer be deemed to be an ABAWD, and shall be automatically exempted from the three-month SNAP benefits time limit, as well as all other special work requirements applicable to ABAWDs.  The State shall not be required to use its 15 percent exemption authority when granting an exemption to a veteran described this subsection. 

 

     5.    This act shall take effect immediately.

STATEMENT

 

     This bill would require the Commissioner of Human Services to take appropriate action to exempt veterans from the special work requirements and benefits limitations that apply to able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) under the State’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

     Federal law prohibits ABAWDs from obtaining SNAP food assistance benefits for more than three months in a three year period, unless such ABAWDs are actively employed, or are participating in a work or workfare program, or are exempted from these special ABAWD work requirements.  A State may obtain a federal waiver of the three-month SNAP benefits time limit for a particular group of ABAWDs, if the United States Secretary of Agriculture determines that the area in which the individuals reside (either throughout the State, or in a particular area of the State) has an unemployment rate of over 10 percent, or does not have a sufficient number of jobs to provide employment for the individuals.  Each state also has broad discretion to provide individual exemptions from the SNAP benefits time limit, as the state sees fit, provided that the number of exemptions does not exceed 15 percent of the total number of ABAWDs in the state who are ineligible for food assistance benefits as a result of the benefits time limit. 

     During the economic downturn that resulted from the Great Recession, requests for statewide federal waivers of the ABAWD benefits time limit were consistently approved by the Secretary of Agriculture for many different states, including New Jersey.  However, as a result of the recent economic upturn and nationwide recovery from the Great Recession, the federal Department of Agriculture has indicated that fewer states will now be eligible for waiver on a statewide basis.  In New Jersey, the most recent Statewide waiver of the benefits time limit expired in 2016.

     Although New Jersey’s Statewide economy and job market have generally improved in the years since the Great Recession began, and preliminary estimates indicate that the State’s general unemployment rate, as of October 2016, has declined to 5.2 percent, the unemployment rate among the State’s veteran population remains unusually high.  In early 2016, the United States Department of Labor released a report, which found that veterans in New Jersey suffered from a nearly 11 percent unemployment rate in 2015 – a rate that is nearly double the national average of 5.8 percent unemployment for this group of people.  Veterans also face a number of unique challenges in securing appropriate employment, and the limited availability and inconsistency of work and workfare programs throughout the State further imposes a hardship on this group of people.  Because it would be wrong to deny these courageous service members a basic necessity like food, particularly when this group faces unique challenges in finding work, and continues to suffer from a high level of unemployment in New Jersey, it is both reasonable and necessary for able-bodied veterans without dependents to continue to be excepted from the SNAP benefits time limit that is otherwise applicable to ABAWDs under federal law. 

     The bill would further require the commissioner, within 180 days after the bill’s effective date, to:  (1) assess all ABAWD veterans in the State to determine whether they are physically or mentally unfit for employment; and (2) refer these veterans for further services, as deemed to be appropriate, based on that assessment.  As provided by federal law, if the commissioner determines that an ABAWD veteran is medically certified as being physically or mentally unfit for employment, such veteran will no longer be deemed to be an ABAWD, and will be automatically exempted from the three-month SNAP benefits time limit, as well as all other special work requirements applicable to ABAWDs.  The bill further specifies, in accordance with federal law, that the State will not be required to use its 15 percent exemption authority when granting an exemption to such a veteran.