So Many New Jersey Residents Need Food Stamps That The Government Can’t Keep Up

High demand for food stamps has made New Jersey one of the slowest states in the nation to process food stamp applications.

States are required to process applications for the food stamp program, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), within 30 days. But according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, New Jersey only meets this requirement 73.75 percent of the time.

The cause of the delay is a struggle to keep up with growing demand for the program, a direct consequence of the recession and ongoing economic recovery. Since 2008, the county boards of social services, which are charged with administering SNAP in New Jersey, have seen a 107 percent increase in the number of applicants, according to Lisa Pitz, coordinator of advocacy and outreach for the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition. The USDA calculated that as of March, 873,657 people were receiving SNAP benefits, or nearly one in 10 New Jersey residents. These high numbers put a strain on the state agencies that provide SNAP benefits, slowing down the application process for potential beneficiaries.

Some SNAP applicants have had to wait as long as six months for their application to go through. Others have given up their benefits because they could not afford to keep waiting. One mother described how difficult it is when benefits are delayed:

“Oh, man, it’s been so bad,” said Katira Quiles, 22, a Camden mother of two who has a part-time job for $8 an hour at a food-processing plant near Glassboro. “They take a long time getting you your food stamps.”

Recently, Quiles’ benefit was a week late, causing her to panic because she didn’t have enough food for her children.

The USDA mandates that any state that processes 90 percent or less of its SNAP applications within 30 days must create a strategy to reach a 95 percent rate. New Jersey is hiring new caseworkers, improving computer systems, and expediting the often lengthy process of filing the proper paperwork.

The program has become a big part of the safety net since the crisis. Nationwide, SNAP serves more than 47 million people each month, and this number spiked by 76 percent during the recession.

But it is clear that the food stamp program faces an uncertain future, especially given recent Republican amendments that could gut funding for the program. As a result of the budget cuts, 12 million people could see their food aid go away.

Marina Fang is an intern for ThinkProgress.