Federal food program change could affect hungry families

SNAP pandemic allotments are set to expire this month

It has been a rough three years for struggling families in Gloucester County, and their SNAP federal emergency allotments for COVID will expire on Feb. 28.

Recipients will see a change in monthly benefit amounts, although some of the loss will be made up by the state. Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation last year to establish the SNAP Minimum Benefit Program to ensure that recipients get at least $50 per month in assistance when the federal allotments end.

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“Food scarcity exists in so many communities right here in Gloucester County, and the region at large,” said Paula Froio, pastoral care director and Chief Development Officer Jeff Sanders of St. John of God Community Services in Westville.

“Discontinuing federal benefits will only exacerbate the situation. While any increase the state may offer will be an assist, we believe families will remain in need of critical food items.”

Since COVID began in March 2020, St. John of God has seen an increase in families struggling to put food on the table.

“The need has absolutely increased,” Froio and Sanders said. “We saw our numbers increase during the depths of the pandemic, and they remain high today. We believe food insecurity, for a balanced and nutritious diet, is sadly here to stay.”

In an effort to get more donations, St. John is planning a Lenten food drive. It hopes to get enough food like canned goods and cereal, and personal care items such as soap and toothpaste to restock its pantry shelves, as well as its mobile food pantry, which delivers donations in the county in a repurposed bus.

SNAP emergency allotments were authorized by Congress in March 2020 to help low-income individuals and families deal with the hardships of COVID. But under the new minimum benefit program, if a SNAP household was approved for less than $50 – $23 is the minimum – it will receive a regular monthly benefit and a state supplement to bring the amount to that $50.

The state Department of Human Services is mailing notices to all SNAP households this month to remind them of the change coming in March. Materials are available for download at NJSNAP.gov.

“Recognizing the challenges families continue to face affording healthy and nutritious food and groceries, New Jersey set a SNAP minimum benefit ensuring all SNAP recipients will receive at least $50 per month in assistance now that the federal emergency allotments are ending,” Gloucester County Board of Commissioners Director Frank J. DiMarco noted.

“I urge our residents to check their SNAP benefits so they are prepared before heading to the grocery store,” he added.

“Those that are in need of additional services can visit nj211.org or contact the Gloucester County Division of Social Services,” advised Commissioner Jim Jefferson, division liaison.

SNAP recipients worried about the overall reduction in benefits should check their eligibility for other federal and state food assistance programs, including WIC for women and children under 5, free or reduced school meals, or the commodity supplemental food program for older adults over 60 years, Jefferson explained.

Nonprofits that would like to partner with the St. John of God mobile pantry can contact Froio or Sanders at 856-848-4700. For more information from the Gloucester County Division of Social Services, call 856-582-9200 or visit https://www.gloucestercountynj.gov/510/Social-Services.

For more information on food resources, visit nj211.org/food‐programs‐and‐community‐resources or text your zip code to 898-211.

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