“Despite a healthy economy marked by plenty of job openings — nearly two jobs for every unemployed person —hunger and food insecurity remain stubbornly high.
It is estimated that over 34 million people, including 9 million children, suffer from food insecurity. In New Jersey, some 650,000 residents, or 7.4%, suffer from hunger. That is 7.4% of the population according to the Community Food Bank. In Bergen County, the overall food insecurity rate is 6.7%, and for children, it is 5.1%. Last August, it was reported that food banks across New Jersey were experiencing shortages of basic goods, reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic.
If those numbers aren’t grim enough, a recent vote by Congress threatens to exacerbate the problem. Due to Congress’s approval of the $1.7-trillion dollar Consolidated Appropriations Act (known as the “omnibus” bill in Washington parlance), the emergency allocations that were provided through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — previously known as food stamps — will come to an end by the end of this month.
In short, that means beneficiaries will have less money toward making food purchases. This development threatens to increase food insecurity across the country. For each of the 40-plus million SNAP recipients, they will see at least $95 less in benefits than they had been for the past couple of years. That’s not chump change.
To help minimize the impact of such a reduction, Islamic Relief USA, a nonprofit humanitarian and advocacy organization with offices in Saddle Brook, this month will hold a meal pack event, assembling 40,000 meals. It will take place at Al-Ghazaly High School, located at 970 Black Oak Ridge Road, in Wayne, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11.
New Jersey was one of 25 states, along with the District of Columbia, that expanded emergency allotments. But by March, all recipients will see their benefits return to normal levels. In Bergen County, there are 22,640 households that receive SNAP benefits, according to the state Human Services Department.
While it’s true that the emergency allotments were always meant to be temporary — made possible by Congress’s passage of various financial assistance programs in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — beneficiaries are likely to experience greater hardship than initially thought. That’s because food prices have skyrocketed in the past year, due to the highest rate of inflation in some four decades.
Federal statistics show that in November 2022, food prices were 12% higher than from the same time of year ago. Some breakfast staples like eggs and margarine have seen unusually higher prices, up 49.1% and 47.4%, respectively.
The expiration of the emergency allotments means that collectively, recipients will lose between $2.5 and $3 billion in food purchasing power. Due to the state’s higher cost of living than much of the nation, New Jersey residents are pay 11% more toward their grocery bills than the national average.
Fortunately, some action was taken to mitigate the pain. State leaders recently voted to increase the minimum SNAP benefits recipients in New Jersey will receive to $50. Previously the minimum benefit was $23. This was a smart policy decision, as it underscores the fact that additional help will be needed to keep pace with market forces beyond recipients’ control.
Effectively addressing food insecurity will continue to require the work and foresight of the nonprofit world, the private sector, and various levels of government. It can be done. We just have to be willing to face reality and take prudent action.“