Tens of thousands of low-income older New Jersey residents are missing out on food assistance. Some don't know they qualify; others have been confounded by complex application requirements.
AARP New Jersey is urging state officials to help more qualified residents join the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. It proposes to make access to SNAP easier for those who already qualify for New Jersey's low-income prescription drug assistance program, which is called Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PAAD).
That means individuals in the drug program with monthly incomes up to $1,670, and couples up to $2,247, also would be eligible for SNAP.
About 64,000 households enrolled in the drug program probably are eligible for SNAP benefits but aren't receiving them, according to the Food Research and Action Center, a national anti-hunger organization based in Washington. In 2007, about 285,000 New Jersey residents eligible for food assistance were not enrolled. That put New Jersey 41st among the states for enrolling all those eligible into the SNAP program.
"They are not getting them because of the bureaucratic paperwork required by the state and federal governments," said Douglas Johnston, AARP New Jersey's senior manager for advocacy. "The state must do much more direct outreach to eligible people. This is especially critical at a time when so many other assistance programs are frozen or cut."
Johnston said that older New Jersey residents lost their homestead property tax rebates this year and are not receiving a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment. "SNAP could give them about $1,300 in benefits in a year, which would obviously be a big help."
The plan shapes up as a win-win situation for a cash-strapped state. It can be done without changing the law and it carries little continuing cost because SNAP is federally funded. Advocates claim the additional benefits would help kick-start New Jersey's economy. The Food Research and Action Center estimates that $83 million of additional federal SNAP benefits could be brought into New Jersey yearly and could stimulate the state's economy by more than $150 million a year.
To find out if you qualify for SNAP benefits, use this online screening tool and then fill out the online food stamp application. Residents can also call 1-800-687-9512 for more information. If you want to apply in person, contact your county welfare agency or board of social services.
The New Jersey Hunger Prevention Advisory Committee website also offers a tool that allows you to search by city, county or ZIP code to find a meal or groceries.
Besides advocating for the SNAP effort, AARP New Jersey also has worked for these achievements:
- Telemarketing Do-Not-Call Law. To ensure privacy and stop unwanted telemarketing sales calls, register online or call 1-888-382-1222 toll-free.
- Identity Theft Prevention Act. The law allows you to "freeze" your credit, the best line of defense against identity theft. Visit the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs website or call 1-800-242-5846.
- Prescription Drug Retail Price Registry. You can easily find the lowest prescription prices nearest you by searching online. The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs also provides this service by phone at 1-800-242-5846.
- Energy Assistance. NJ SHARES, a nonprofit aid organization, can provide up to $1,000 for moderate-income families to pay their energy bills. For more information, visit the NJ SHARES website or call 1-866-NJSHARES (657-4273) toll-free. For other energy-assistance information, visit the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs website or call 1-800-510-3102.
- Predatory Lending Protections Act. Protects consumers from being charged exorbitant interest rates when borrowing money. To learn more, visit the Department of Banking and Insurance website or call 1-800-446-7467.
Doug Hulette is a freelance writer based in Lawrenceville, N.J.