UPDATED MARCH 30, 2020
Here is the latest information on addressing hunger during the coronavirus crisis.
SNAP benefits boosted (food stamps)
Included in the $2 trillion aid package, signed March 27, was an increase for SNAP benefits. New Jersey’s share is $70 million, which will provide additional cash benefits to 205,000 households. These funds bridge the difference between what a family receives and the maximum amount allowed for each size household.
Because benefits are based on income and other factors, many families do not receive the maximum monthly amount, which is $194 per month for a single person and $509 for a family of three. With this new aid, all households will receive the maximum benefit, regardless of income or other factors.
The first month of increased benefits were automatically loaded on recipients EBT debit card on Sunday, March 29. The increase will be provided again in April payments.
Recipients can check balances at www.NJFamiliesFirst.com or go some ATMs
Federal Rules Relaxed to Keep People Safe and Fed
In addition, the USDA has waived a host of rules for federal food programs to make it safer and easier for people to apply for and continue receiving assistance. These include:
- Extension of SNAP benefits for six months for people whose enrollment would have expired in March, April and May,
- Conducting telephone interviews instead of face-to face-interviews,
- Temporary suspension of work requirements for single, able-bodied adults without dependents. These recipients will not lose benefits if they cannot find a job or attend work training programs.
- Shortages in some food items has prompted the New Jersey Department of Health to relax the food choice requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. WIC sets fairly strict guidelines on what foods can be purchased with the benefits. Some recipients have reported having a difficult time finding the exact items approved for their voucher. Learn more about the new guidelines.
- WIC recipients are not required to physically report to an office or clinic to enroll, re-enroll, receive nutrition education, clinical appointments or to pick up WIC EBT cards and/or paper coupons.
- Parents can pick up meals without having children physically present. States must have a process to verify that meals are distributed only to eligible children and that families aren’t picking up duplicate meals for any student.
- Meals can be provided outside of a group (congregate) feeding setting, such as a cafeteria. Meals can be distributed at sites where families pick up meals, as well as be delivered to children’s homes.
- Schools can serve multiple meals for multiple days and have flexibility in when meals are served.
- Afterschool meal providers do not have to offer educational or enrichment activities when providing snacks or suppers through the National School Lunch Program or CACFP At-Risk Program.
- School have flexibility in meeting the USDA’s “meal pattern” requirements, as needed to support access to nutritious meals when certain foods are not available due to the novel coronavirus.
- The deadline for school districts to commit to participating in the Community Eligibility Option for school year 2020-21 has been extended to Aug. 31. This option allows districts to feed all children and reduce paperwork.
- Certain onsite monitoring requirements for the school meals programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program, have been waived.
All questions about school meal waivers should be directed to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture at (609) 984-0692.
USDA Foods Programs
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided an additional $400 million to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which provides USDA-purchased food to state agencies for distribution through food banks and local organizations. Up to $100 million of the additional funding may be used to offset higher food distribution costs due to COVID-19.
Under a Presidential Declaration of a National Emergency, FNS may approve state requests for Disaster Household Distributions for targeted areas to meet specific needs when traditional channels of food are unavailable and not being replenished on a regular basis. DHD provides boxed foods to households using existing inventories of USDA-purchased foods.
WIC Gets Funding Boost
The newly-approved federal stimulus package also sets aside $500 million for pregnant women and mothers under the WIC program, as well as $400 million in emergency aid for the Agriculture Department to purchase and distribute items to food banks and other local efforts.
Grants Announced for Community Organizations
Nourishing Neighbors (formerly known as Hunger Is), a program of Albertsons Companies Foundation, has established a fund to help local families impacted by the current crisis. Funds will be used to support organizations in their effort to provide meals to school children, seniors, and others financially impacted or isolated individuals during this time.
Programs eligible for funding can include (but are not limited to):
- Programs that support emergency meal distribution programs for students,
- Programs that support families in need through gift cards or food distribution,
- Programs that provide meals and food to senior,
- Programs that help families access federal food programs like WIC and SNAP.
Applications can be made for up to $10,000 and will be reviewed on a rolling basis. Applicants can expect a response within three weeks of submission. For more information, contact Anjana Bhattarai, program officer, Albertsons Companies Foundation, Anjana.Bhattarai@albertsons.com.
As of March 24, 2020, here is what we know:
New federal legislation known as Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides several rule waivers to make it easier for schools, local government and community organizations to feed children and receive federal reimbursements. The child nutrition waivers include:
Allowing meals to be provided outside of a group (congregate) feeding setting, such as a cafeteria. Meals can be distributed at sites where families pick up meals, as well as be delivered to children’s homes.
Multiple meals can also be provided for multiple days. School districts and other sponsors also will have flexibility in when meals are served. These waivers apply to all federal child nutrition programs: School Breakfast Program (SBP), National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), and Child Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).
Under the waivers, sponsors of afterschool meals will not have to provide educational or enrichment activities when providing snacks through the National School Lunch Program or CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Program.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture, which administers these programs on the state level, is required to inform local program operators of these flexibilities as quickly possible and work with schools, local government agencies, nonprofit organizations and other entities to safely provide accessible meals to children.
The waivers are in effect until June 30, 2020.
The NJ Department of Agriculture is already working with districts to serve meals through SFSP and the Seamless Summer Option. The department is expediting requests from districts to serve meals under these programs, if they are not already participating.
Contact NJDA at 609-984-0692 for more information.
Get the Word Out
As of right now, there is no central information source for how districts are providing food to families. Please share this information with your networks, alerting parents to these changes, so they can contact their local districts to learn how food is being distributed.
The NJ Department of Human Services has taken the following steps to make the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) and other assistance more readily available:
- Automatically extending for 60 days WorkFirst New Jersey cash assistance to individuals whose case is up for renewal in March or April;
- Extending all Emergency Assistance cases through April 30;
- Exempting SNAP and WorkFirst New Jersey recipients from attending work or training programs,
- Convening New Jersey food banks and community pantries to focus on preparedness planning and distribution.
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.
Interviews are being conducted by phone. Any 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.gov.
We are working with state and federal officials to provide more flexibilities to SNAP, so stay tuned.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Women Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC, is also working to implement flexibility to help pregnant women, mothers of young children, infants and toddlers receive assistance.
The New Jersey Department of Health, which administers WIC, is working on providing guidance to local agencies waiving requirements that people physically come to the office for initial approvals and re-certifications, according to state health officials.
While most local WIC offices are closed to the public, all are conducting some level of WIC services, such as nutrition education and breastfeeding supports. All of the local agencies are also 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.
Health officials are also working to make benefits more flexible so they don’t expire before then can be used, given limited supplies in grocery stores and other retail outlets. State health officials have also notified vendors to not limit WIC food items to participants.
More About Family First Act
In addition to providing rule waivers for child nutrition programs, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act also made changes to SNAP, including:
Allowing households to reach the maximum benefit amount, if they are not already receiving that amount, (it’s unclear when this will go
into effect at this point).
Waiving requirements that recipients participate in work-related activities,
Providing children qualified for free or reduced-price meals to receive SNAP benefits. There are still a lot of questions about how this will be put into operation. It will likely be easier for families already receiving SNAP, who may simply receive additional benefits for each qualified child. For qualified children in families that do not participate in SNAP, a process needs to be established.
At this point, it is unclear what the process will be, how quickly it will be implemented or how many New Jersey children will benefit. As more information becomes available, we will update this page and send out e-alerts.
Other provisions of the Act include:
Providing $500 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) to provide access to nutritious foods to low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the COVID-19.
Providing $250 million for increases in meals provided by senior nutrition programs housed in the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living. Food banks and emergency food providers will also receive much-needed commodity support.
Reinvestment Fund Seeks Input
The Child Nutrition Fund, administered by Reinvestment Fund with support from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, provides grants to organizations to feed children through the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Services Program.
Reinvestment fund is exploring ways to increase its responsiveness to assist organizations in continuing access to child nutrition during school closures. Please help identify immediate resource needs by filling out this brief survey: NJ Child Nutrition – COVID-19 Needs and Resources Survey.