“In New Jersey we have an issue and we need to address it,” said Assembly Chair Valerie V. Huttle.
That issue is poverty.
Advocates discussed fighting poverty at a Human Services Committee hearing on January 27 at the statehouse in Trenton. It was one of the four hearings – motivated by rates reaching a 50-year high – initiated by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
As one of the richest states in the country, New Jersey has a significant number of individuals struggling to make ends meet; according to Legal Services, 2.8 million adults and 800,000 children lived in true poverty in 2014.
And poverty is linked to hunger, which affects 1.1 million people in the state.
“You can’t fight hunger without looking at poverty or why people are hungry,” said Diane Riley, Director of Advocacy at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.
On the issue of poverty, Prieto listed items that need reform, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Many of the advocates also mentioned SNAP, which lost its waiver for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD) in December, a change that could leave at least 11,000 New Jerseyans without benefits.
Gov. Chris Christie’s administration removed the waiver for ABAWDs because of the state’s economic growth. But, although the economy has improved, Huttle said there are even more people struggling.
“We can’t keep cutting food stamps and making people jump through bureaucratic hoops to get benefits,” she added.
While the advocates at the hearing represented different aspects of the fight against poverty – hunger, utilities and senior care, among others – they agreed that federal programs need enhancements and simplified enrollment.
The goal is to lift New Jersey out of poverty. This hearing was the first step to doing just that.