NJ residents newly relying on SNAP, other benefits due to COVID-19
Working full-time as a massage therapist, Angela H. could easily provide for her two kids and afford monthly rent payments for their apartment, along with other bills.
But when the coronavirus pandemic hit New Jersey, that security went out the window. Without a job, and struggling to get her hands on actual money through unemployment insurance, the Monmouth County resident went searching for help so she didn't have to dip into her savings account monthly. Angela quickly learned her situation deemed her eligible for SNAP (food stamps), a government-funded benefit she never expected to rely on.
"I really was struggling to figure out whether I need to pay rent or have food," Angela told New Jersey 101.5. "I was eligible for about $398 a month. I'm so thankful for it."
After a few months of living off the benefit, Angela was welcomed back to her job part-time, and she voluntarily stopped receiving SNAP, she said, out of consideration for "people who really are in need of the service."
Since the start of the pandemic, state officials and nonprofit professionals have seen an obvious uptick in the number of New Jersey residents, many of whom are unfamiliar with the process, seeking out services such as assistance with affording food and other expenses.
About 725,000 New Jersey residents currently rely on SNAP, according to the state Department of Human Services. In March, when the COVID-19 crisis began to force the closure of many New Jersey businesses, that number was 670,000.
It was announced by DHS on Thursday that an additional $38.5 million in SNAP benefits will be provided to families in August, on top of $180.5 million in additional benefits provided March through July, as part of the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
To meet the needs of those searching for access to affordable health care and housing, along with help to cover food, utility and other expenses, Neptune-based food bank Fulfill has created "COVID-19 safe" appointments for interested clients. Fulfill, formerly the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, was the resource that connected Angela with SNAP; the site also provided her with food for her family on the day she stopped in.
"I have no doubt that people new to the unemployment rolls have no idea where to go to apply for food stamps," said Fulfill CEO Kim Guadagno, former lieutenant governor of New Jersey. "This virus isn't going to go away fast. This economy isn't going to come back quickly."
Fulfill's free and confidential services can also be accessed over the phone, at 732-643-5888. According to Fulfill, eight of 10 people in New Jersey qualify for financial assistance meant for health coverage. Based on income, certain individuals are eligible for free tax preparation.
Since the start of the pandemic, Fulfill has seen a 40% spike in demand for food at the Jersey Shore.
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