N.J. Assembly leader calls for expanded heating, nutritional benefits

New Jersey Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New Jersey Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New Jersey lawmakers want to extend more help to thousands of families struggling to make ends meet.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said one of his priorities is passing legislation to provide a $21 annual energy-assistance payment to households receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program. The benefits were previously known as food stamps.

That $21 payment would allow those families to get a heating and cooling allowance that qualifies them to receive additional nutritional assistance, said Coughlin, D-Middlesex.

“Helping families with energy and nutritional assistance payments is a must,” he said. “And it’s the right approach, both socially and fiscally.”

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Former Gov. Chris Christie vetoed efforts by Democrats to boost the energy assistance payment that would help about 180,000 families qualify for more nutritional assistance, according to Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, D-Gloucester.

“They have lost $90 per month in food benefits,” she said. “This translates to a loss of 64 meals a month.”

Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter said increasing the “heat-and-eat” assistance payments is an important part of the state’s goal of ending hunger.

“It is what needs to be done to help families working hard to make ends meet,” said Sumter, D-Paterson. “To help the most vulnerable residents — our seniors, our disabled, and those who rely on programs each month to just get by.”

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