Latest Kids Count Data Update
By Alena Siddiqui, Kids Count Coordinator
ACNJ has posted more data to our Kids Count Data Dashboard. This quarter, we have updates on a variety of data indicators relating to nutrition, teens & young adults, and early care & education. Those having to do with family assistance programs include:
- Children in Families Receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Children Receiving New Jersey Special Supplemental Nutrition Program (NJ SNAP) (formerly known as Food Stamps)
- Number Enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
- Number Participating in WIC
Note, number participating refers to those who are actively using WIC. These data are helpful to see of those enrolled, how many are actually participating.
- Percent Participating in WIC Out of Total Enrolled
These indicators show some interesting trends for New Jersey’s counties and for the state as a whole. Click here to view numbers broken down by county.
An Overview of Program Usage
Children Receiving NJ SNAP, 2017-2021
While the number of children receiving NJ SNAP dipped from 2017 to 2019, trends show that the numbers started to rise in 2020 and have now reached close to 400,000. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of children receiving SNAP rose by 21 percent.
Children in Families Receiving TANF
Unlike NJ SNAP, which has been rising since 2019, TANF only experienced a brief peak in 2020, followed by another decline in 2021. The number of children in families receiving TANF in 2021 has decreased significantly for counties located in north and south Jersey while central Jersey counties, with the exception of Ocean and Mercer, saw an increase.
Number Enrolled in WIC
When looking at the dashboard, we see that for the percentage participating in WIC, New Jersey stayed at 90% from 2017 to 2018, then dropped to 84% in 2019 and rose to 89% in 2021. When comparing the number enrolled in WIC versus the number participating, New Jersey has seen a decline for both indicators from 2017 to 2021. Interestingly, many counties saw the lowest point for the number participating in WIC in 2020.
While the three programs were created to help bring families out of poverty, eligibility criteria differ. New Jersey repealed the family cap in 2020 that denied more cash assistance to families who have another child while enrolled in TANF, reduced the work requirements and boosted payments to $559 a month for a family of three, but the payment is still well below the poverty line considering that New Jersey is a very expensive state.
In order to be eligible for NJ SNAP, besides being a New Jersey resident, the annual household income must not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $49,025 before taxes for a family of four. The criteria for enrollment for TANF may explain why enrollment lags behind SNAP. Residents may also lack awareness of the programs.
The household income eligibility to enroll in the WIC program is the same as for SNAP, 185 percent of the federal poverty level. However, WIC is a nutrition and educational program designed specifically for pregnant and post-partum women, infants and children up to age five, that provides health and nutrition screenings to ward off poor growth rates in infants and children, poor pregnancy outcomes and poor health and nutrition at a critical stage of child development.
There is good news for New Jersey in the fight against poverty and malnutrition. The Food Desert Relief Act, part of the Economic Recovery Act signed into law by Governor Murphy in January 2021, directs the NJEDA to address food insecurity by providing up to $40 million per year for six years in tax credits, loans, grants, and/or technical assistance in order to increase access to nutritious foods and develop new approaches to alleviate food deserts and provide healthier food options within these communities. Additionally, the act helps food retailers respond to the shift to e-commerce, including SNAP and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
The organization Hunger Free NJ created a new initiative called Hungry? Get Help, which aims to boost awareness of the many food assistance programs New Jersey has to offer, including NJ SNAP, WIC, free school meals, a list of food banks and more. The Department of Human Services also has a website, NJHelps.org, that may help individuals determine what food or cash assistance programs they are eligible for, and health insurance through NJ FamilyCare.
Additionally, on January 4, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) released a preliminary list of communities identified as food deserts, or low-income areas where a substantial number of residents have little to no access to stores selling healthy and affordable food. NJEDA held listening sessions in early January to receive feedback on the report. Members of the public who have questions about the designations, or who would like to provide additional input, can click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Public comments are due by February 4, 2022.
ACNJ updates our Kids Count Data Dashboard on a regular basis. View the most recent information regarding the well-being of the state’s children by visiting acnj.org/kids-count