The number of New Jersey residents receiving SNAP benefits has expanded significantly during the coronavirus pandemic, but the Garden State needs to keep making moves in order to ensure that everyone who could benefit from the assistance program has a chance to do so, according to Hunger Free New Jersey.

In its report released Wednesday morning, the advocacy organization suggests that many changes made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program during the health emergency should be made permanent at the federal level. At the same time, the report says, New Jersey should take steps to make the process easier for folks who can benefit from SNAP, also known as food stamps.

"I think in New Jersey we really need to focus on access, in terms of online access, ease of applications," said HFNJ Director Adele LaTourette. "We need a new online application. Ours is extremely cumbersome and really challenging to complete."

During the pandemic, monthly SNAP benefits were increased by the federal government, which also relaxed several rules to make it easier for people to apply for and receive this aid. The Garden State pursued and received all available federal waivers, including the elimination of interviews before SNAP approval, and allowing telephonic signatures on applications.

According to HFNJ, "these smart policies" should continue to exist after the pandemic subsides. The group also recommends that public education about the program be expanded.

LaTourette said she was surprised by the number of people in a recent HFNJ survey who had misconceptions about SNAP and who can be helped by the program.

"Like they thought that if they were working, they were automatically not eligible, which is not true," LaTourette said.

According to the state Department of Human Services, which administers the program in New Jersey, 340,000 households benefited from SNAP in March 2020. That number will be 430,000 in June.

Households have been receiving maximum SNAP benefits since March 2020, and a 15% increase in SNAP benefits remains in effect through September, DHS said.

In a January 2020 report, HFNJ revealed that SNAP was not reaching at least 300,000 low-income residents.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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