Hunger & Coronavirus Crisis
Addressing Hunger During Outbreak
There have been significant state and federal responses aimed at addressing hunger during the COVID-19 outbreak. While there is still more to do, here is the latest info about state and federal response to help schools feed students during this closure, help people keep and apply for food assistance and increase funding for these programs.
Yes, many New Jersey districts are providing meals to families through distribution sites or by delivering to homes. Service varies from district to district. Parents and other caregivers should contact their local school for information on meal distribution.
View Rutgers’ guide to feeding children during unplanned school closings.
It’s unlikely that summer programs for children will operate normally this summer. To help communities deal with this and feed children, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has extended three key waivers that had been put in place for the unplanned school closings. The following waivers are now good through August 31:
Non-Congregate Feeding, which allows meals to be served outside of group settings. Meals can be distributed at a site where families pick up the meals, as well as be delivered to children’s homes.
Meal Service Times, which provides flexibility to when meals are served.
Area eligibility waiver allows school districts to feed all kids for free, even if they don’t meet the 50% free/reduced threshold. This only applies to districts that fed children during the emergency school closings.
USDA also extended the “Meal Pattern Flexibility’’ from May 31 to June 30 . This provides flexibility in meeting federal nutrition requirements. USDA will continue to evaluate its need as the situation evolves.
The nationwide and state waivers have been critical in supporting families that rely on free and reduced-price school meals during the school year. Hunger Free New Jersey is working with state and national partners to enact further waivers so communities can reach all kids in need.
Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) is a program to help families buy food for their children who normally would get free or reduced-price meals at school before the closures. The full benefit amount of $416.10, which covers the days schools were closed due to COVID-19, will be available when you activate your card. You can use P-EBT benefits to purchase food items.
No application is needed. For families already receiving SNAP, additional benefits will simply be added to their cards. For families not currently receiving SNAP, a card will be mailed to their home. The state expects to mail those cards in June.
The NJ Department of Human Services has taken several steps to make the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) and other assistance more readily available:
- Waiving the interview requirement,
- Waiving signatures on hardcopy applications,
- Providing additional benefits to households,
- Granting a six-month exemption to recertify for people already receiving SNAP,
- Exempting SNAP and WorkFirst New Jersey recipients from attending work or training programs.
New SNAP Applicants
With county welfare offices largely closed to the public, the New Jersey Department of Human Services is encouraging residents in need to apply for SNAP food assistance or cash assistance online at NJHelps.org. Needed documentation (i.e. pay stubs) or other paperwork can be mailed or faxed. Some county welfare agencies are providing drop boxes outside the offices where applicants can leave documentation.
SNAP provides monthly benefits through Electronic Debt Transfers (EBTs) for recipients to buy food at grocery stores and other retail outlets. For more info, visit NJSNAP.org.
The USDA recently granted permission to New Jersey and other states to allow SNAP recipients to shop online. SNAP recipients can now use their benefits card to shop Amazon, Walmart, ShopRite and The Fresh Grocer. This is especially important during the COVID pandemic, allowing SNAP recipients to skip potentially harmful visits to the grocery store.
But it’s also critical during “normal” times. Many recipients must rely on public transportation to get to the grocery store, making shopping difficult. Others have no good grocery store options nearby. And still others, especially seniors, simply lack the ability to go to the store.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Women Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC, is providing flexibilities to help pregnant women, mothers of young children, infants and toddlers receive assistance. The New Jersey Department of Health, which administers WIC, is has waived requirements that people physically come to the office for initial approvals and re-certifications.
All local agencies are issuing three months worth of checks to participants. Agencies are either mailing those checks or establishing a pick-up time, which is conducted with social distancing in mind.
Apply for SNAP
Many changes have been made to make it easier to apply for SNAP and to receive more money each month to buy food. SNAP recipients can also now shop online. SNAP is one of the most effective anti-hunger programs during good times and bad.