Nancy Solomon, Managing Editor, New Jersey Public Radio
Nancy Solomon is the Managing Editor of New Jersey Public Radio.
The number of New Jersey residents receiving food stamps has doubled in the last four years despite the state’s standing as No. 2 wealthiest in the nation.
One in every 10 people in the state now receive aid – totaling 400,000 households, according to New Jersey Department of Human Resources.
The increase might be partly due to changes in income requirements, a public awareness campaign and a streamlined application process, according to state officials.
The income requirement was raised from 130 percent of the federal poverty level to 185 percent, meaning a family of four with an annual income of $41,364 can now receive food stamps, which reflects the high cost of living in New Jersey.
Even so, the primary reason the numbers have increased so sharply is due to the economy and the rise in joblessness.
The Community Food Bank of New Jersey said it has doubled the amount of free food it provides to needy residents.
“They're becoming more desperate,” said Diane Riley, director of advocacy, who noted people tend to be more embarrassed to go on food stamps than to come to a food pantry. “There are so many people now who are in the same boat, or there are so many more people who are struggling, they should be taking advantage of something that might help them.”
The food bank helps about 100 people a month apply for food stamps, Riley said, and often clients meet with outreach workers several times before seeking help from the state.
The poverty rate in New Jersey is also rising, from 9.4 percent in 2009 to 10.3 percent in 2010, and those figures are based on the federal level, which doesn’t account for the state’s high cost of living.
The Census Bureau released figures earlier this month that show 13.6 million American households reported receiving food stamps, a 16 percent increase.