Booker, Menendez, Sires, Payne Urge USDA to Expand SNAP and WIC Benefits to Support Newark Residents Affected by Lead in Drinking Water
WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), along with Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) today urged U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to offer additional assistance to serve the immediate needs of Newark residents affected by known or suspected lead service lines. By making temporary changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC), USDA can help ensure that Newark’s families and children are being safeguarded from potential lead exposure.
Specifically, the lawmakers called for:
- Temporarily increasing SNAP benefits for affected residents so they aren’t faced with the choice of buying food or bottled water.
- Making “Ready to Feed” baby formula available at WIC locations and allowing for a temporary increase in WIC benefits so “Ready to Feed” formula, which is typically more expensive than powder formula, doesn’t financially burden participants.
- Granting the New Jersey Department of Human Services (NJDOH) the ability to launch the SNAP home delivery pilot in Newark immediately for those facing transportation barriers and providing funding to cover delivery fees.
- Allowing SNAP benefits to be used for prepared foods to avoid potential lead exposure from cooking.
- Providing NJDOH with emergency funding to expand access to their educational services by extending their hours to accommodate participants outside of workday hours.
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the head of USDA, the lawmakers wrote:
“We believe that further action can be taken to protect vulnerable residents of Newark. We ask that USDA implement a temporary, targeted increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. In doing so, participants with known or suspected lead service lines would be able to purchase bottled water without sacrificing current SNAP funding allocations needed for food purchases.”
“Given the need to limit at risk populations’ potential exposure to lead in filtered water, we respectfully request your assistance with the aforementioned safeguards for the residents of Newark.”
Since an engineering study was released in October 2018 finding that lead was leaching into Newark’s drinking water because of ineffective corrosion treatment at one of the City’s water treatment plants, Booker, who lives in Newark, has worked tirelessly in the Senate to help the city get the federal resources it needs to fix the problem. Booker urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to include a measure he authored that would provide a source of funding for Newark to completely replace over 15,000 aging lead service pipes in a 2018 end-of-year spending bill. After the measure wasn’t included in that spending deal, he introduced it as a stand-alone bill in Congress – called the Water Infrastructure Funding Transfer Act – and successfully pushed the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee to hold a vote on the bill, which it did on June 19; Booker’s bill passed unanimously. Last month, the Committee filed a written report on the bill. In June, Booker worked to include the measure as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which was moving through the Senate, but it was blocked by Republicans. Booker then worked to “hot-line” the bill for Senate passage before Congress broke for recess in early August, but the effort was again blocked by Republicans. Bills can be “hot-lined” for passage, which means they do not need to come to a vote on the Senate floor, if no Senator raises objections to the bill. Earlier this week, Booker led a letter with Senator Menendez (D-NJ) and Congressmen Donald Payne (D-NJ) and Albio Sires (D-NJ) to the EPA urging it to assist state and local efforts to deliver safe drinking water to Newark residents.
The letter is available here and below:
August 15, 2019
The Honorable Sonny Perdue
The U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Perdue:
We write in regard to the recent finding of high levels of lead in samples of filtered drinking water in Newark, New Jersey. We have been working with the City of Newark and State of New Jersey to identify ways to ensure the safety of Newark’s residents and address the special needs of families and children. In order to better serve the immediate needs of this community, we urge the USDA to provide additional assistance in those efforts.
Infants who consume mostly powder formula that requires mixing are particularly vulnerable to exposure to lead in filtered water. As such, we are concerned that participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) may not have sufficient access to “Ready to Feed” formula in order to limit the potential for exposure through powder formula. Currently, the State of New Jersey has begun making “Ready to Feed” formula available to Newark residents at WIC clinics. In order to reach more WIC participants, we ask that USDA both ensure that premixed formula be made available at all WIC retailers in Newark, and increase awareness of the availability of this option to WIC mothers. For WIC mothers who have already purchased powder formula, we request that USDA also offer the option to return powder formula in exchange for “Ready to Feed” formula. To supplement any increased costs, we urge USDA to allow for a temporary, targeted increase in WIC benefits so that the need for purchasing “Ready to Feed” formula does not financially burden participants.
Along with the protections outlined above, we believe that further action can be taken to protect vulnerable residents of Newark. In the event of a decrease in the State’s bottled water supply, we ask that USDA implement a temporary, targeted increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. In doing so, participants with known or suspected lead service lines would be able to purchase bottled water without sacrificing current SNAP funding allocations needed for food purchases.
In order to further mitigate the potential impacts of lead exposure on Newark residents, we request your support for additional nutritional assistance. This includes making additional SNAP funding available to support nutrition needs as identified by the New Jersey Department of Human Services (NJDOH). To ensure access to nutritious foods to all families regardless of transportation or physical limitations, we ask that NJDOH be allowed to not only launch the SNAP home delivery pilot in Newark immediately, but be provided with additional funding to support delivery fee costs. Moreover, we urge USDA to allow SNAP recipients to use current funding allocations for prepared foods to mitigate any challenges with cooking that these families currently face. Lastly, we request emergency funding be granted to NJDOH to provide extended hours and expanded access to accommodate more participants in need of assistance who are unable to attend during the standard workday hours.
Given the need to limit at risk populations’ potential exposure to lead in filtered water, we respectfully request your assistance with the aforementioned safeguards for the residents of Newark. We stand ready to assist in those efforts and any efforts to protect the City and its residents from further unnecessary exposure. We appreciate your immediate consideration of this request.
Cory A. Booker Robert Menendez
United States Senator United States Senator
Albio Sires Donald M. Payne, Jr.
Member of Congress Member of Congress