Four lawmakers, seeking to improve what they called New Jersey's "chronically poor performance" in administering the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, have introduced a three-bill package of legislation aimed at addressing the problem of delays in the SNAP application process.

"We need to get this right," said Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia (D-Hoboken). "There are major consequences here when you have these kinds of delays. You're impacting people's lives."

Early in 2014, the Obama administration threatened to withhold half of the $278 million it costs New Jersey to operate the program, formerly known as food stamps. A series of reports Garcia cited also indicated that New Jersey ranked 52nd out of 53 state agencies nationwide, in terms of timeliness in processing food assistance applications.

"I grew up as a young boy on the food stamp programs and I understand what that's like, whether or not you go to bed hungry," Garcia said. "We need to have a swift, corrective action plan, and that's what we're proposing."

The bills would:

  • require the state's Office of Information Technology to immediately review the development of a new computer system.
  • require the state Department of Human Services to use funds it has gotten from performance bonuses from the federal government to increase the number of trained personnel available to process SNAP applications.
  • urge the Commissioner of Human Services to encourage counties to use best practices and new case management models to improve the timeliness in processing applications for SNAP.

"This incompetence couldn't come at a worse time, given that the number of New Jersey residents living in poverty has increased in recent years while our state is still trying to recover from the recession," said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) in a press release. "It's our job as lawmakers to address these delays. Struggling parents don't want to hear about computer problems or bureaucratic incompetence. They just want to know if they're going to be able to feed their children tomorrow."

The other two bill sponsors are Assembly members Cleopatra Tucker (D-Newark) and Gabriela Mosquera (D-Turnersville). The three measures have been referred to the Assembly Human Services Committee.