New Jersey's Democrat-led Legislature passed a bill Thursday to restore a work-requirement waiver for federal food stamps that the Christie administration stopped because the state's unemployment rate had fallen.

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The Assembly approved the measure Thursday to require the administration to conduct a study on whether a need for the waiver exists. If it does, then the state must apply for it. The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie's administration announced in December it would stop seeking a waiver for "able-bodied" adults without dependents for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once called food stamps.

Since 2009, New Jersey was able to waive a requirement that food-stamp recipients work at least 20 hours a week because of the struggling economy. But the administration said the state cannot continue because the economy has improved.

The federal government set a 10 percent unemployment rate for states to participate in the waiver, according to the New Jersey Department of Human Services. New Jersey's unemployment rate is 5.1 percent.

The move angered Democrats and anti-poverty groups in the state, who argued that certain areas could likely still have qualified for the waiver.

"Unfortunately, we still have a significant number of counties still struggling to rebound from the recession, making it harder for residents to find work," said Democratic Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter.

Christie's office points out that residents are not losing benefits, only that able-bodied adults without dependents must now meet the work requirement.

Under Christie's move, New Jersey joined 15 other states, including Delaware, Iowa, Texas and Wyoming, without the waivers.

Department of Human Services acting commissioner Elizabeth Connolly has said the 11,000 people who could be affected are a small percentage of the roughly 900,000 program beneficiaries in the state.

The department will work with the state Labor and Workforce Development Department to help those affected find work, she added.

Critics of Christie's move say the state will be leaving some of its most vulnerable residents without assistance.

The maximum monthly income to qualify for food aid for a single person with no dependent children in New Jersey is $1,815. The top monthly benefit under the program is $194 a month.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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