On January 11, the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, an advocacy group that works to raise awareness for and end hunger in the State of New Jersey, held a press event at the New Jersey State House. Their goal was to raise awareness for upcoming cuts to the federal food stamp program that will affect the State and to call for state government to apply for a waiver based on county levels of unemployment. (More information about the event and its message is available here).
Case worker Jeanetta Warren, who directs Catholic Charities’ Atlantic County Economic Crisis Committee, was asked to speak at the event. Her program provides case management and financial assistance to those suffering from the effects of the casino closures in Atlantic City. Her remarks, which draw attention to the ongoing struggles of those living in Atlantic City and their risk of hunger because of prolonged unemployment, are below.
Good morning everyone. My name is Jeanetta Warren, and I am the Program Director for Catholic Charites’s Atlantic County Economic Crisis Committee. In this role I assist individuals and families that have been impacted by the casino layoffs in Atlantic City. We provide financial assistance for housing, utilities and transportation and we also refer them to other agencies based on their level of need.
In 2014 four casinos closed – 8,000 people lost their jobs. Eight thousand. Times that by their families – there’s a great need. People found themselves in uncharted waters, struggling to survive. Today, 18 months later, people are still feeling the aftermath. They’re hurting. Many of the clients that I worked with served in their jobs 15 or 20 years. They had no idea how to apply for assistance; they never needed it. And now they’re in this situation.
Atlantic County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and in the country. It is extremely difficult to find employment in Atlantic County, there are very little job opportunities. As a result, people are experiencing extreme financial hardship.
One of my clients, Patricia, had one job her whole life: 19 years at Trump Plaza. Almost two years later, 75 job applications later, still no job. She’s trying, but there’s no jobs there. She doesn’t want SNAP, or any other assistance that I provide to her, she’d rather work. She describes herself as a hardworking person. And now she’s losing hope.
Another client Frances, worked in the casino industry for almost 20 years. She too was laid off. Frances is a senior, in her 60’s. She’s competing in the job market with people half her age. It’s really difficult. After her unemployment benefits ran out she applied to SNAP. She continues to look for work; still no luck.
As the guest speakers have said, cuts to the SNAP program would devastate people’s lives, particularly in Atlantic County with there’s no jobs.
My clients would rather work than apply for assistance. They’re hardworking people. They never expected to be in these circumstance- but life happens. None of us are exempt from life. Tomorrow, I could be in this situation, you could, your mother, your father, your children, anyone could be in this situation. I’m sure someone in this audience knows someone right now that’s looking for employment that can’t find. Not due to lack of skills or education; the job market is just really tough right now. Changes to the SNAP program would just increase the number of people in need of food.
In closing, I would like to thank NJAHC, Lisa and Adele, for bringing awareness to these issues – not only in Atlantic County but throughout the whole state. It’s important work, I’m grateful for their tireless effort. Every day they’re out there bringing awareness and bringing a face to hunger as you can see on this display.
No one in America should go hungry. No one. There’s too many resources available. Thank you for your time, have a great day.