Feds Threaten New Jersey's Funding for Slow Food Stamps Approval

August 21, 2014

Citing New Jersey's "chronically poor performance" of efficiently reviewing food stamp applications, the Obama administration has threatened to withhold federal funding unless the state makes dramatic improvements by March.

States are obligated to let applicants know within 30 days whether they qualify for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program — what the food stamp program is now called. But New Jersey ranks second to last in meeting this requirement, despite efforts over "several years" to improve performance, according to the July 2 letter to Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With only about 73 percent of applications reviewed within the 30 days in December 2012, the state "is creating hardships for thousands of low-income households across New Jersey," the letter said.

The federal government pays half of the $278 million it costs to operate New Jersey's food stamp program, with the state and county governments shouldering the other half, according to a report by New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal leaning think tank who released the letter from the Obama administration. The letter, however, did not say how much the state stands to lose.

"It would be a crippling loss to the state to lose all or part of these federal administrative funds," according to the report.

The state and county boards of social services, which administer the program, should consider hiring more employees or paying overtime in order to catch up, according to the letter from Patricia Dombroski, the U.S. Agriculture Department's Mid-Atlantic region director. The federal government bears half of all administrative costs, her letter noted.

New Jersey also could use the cash award it received from the federal government for doing a good job ferreting out mistakes in the program. "We strongly urge DHS to consider using these awards funds for investment in corrective action activities to improve application processing timeliness," according to Dombroski's letter.

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