A liberal research group claims hundreds of thousands of struggling New Jersey residents are being denied food benefits because of inadequate state support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

"New Jersey has the fifth lowest participation rate in the nation," said Ray Castro, an analyst with New Jersey Policy Perspective.

The state should be doing more to reach residents who are eligible for the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, he said.

"The state does not provide any funds whatsoever for outreach. They rely on private agencies to do that," he said. "We calculated that there are about 140,000 people who are not being reached that should."

New Jersey is not processing SNAP applications in a timely manner, Castro said, and that could lead to the loss of millions of dollars of federal funds and hurt the state's economy.

"The economic impact is almost twice as great as the amount of federal funds. So even though we're losing $170 million as a result of the heat and eat program, that has an impact of $300 million in terms of economic activity," he said. "And that means less jobs in our state, and that's the last thing we need right now."

New Jersey Policy Perspective is pushing for the state to fully support the program but has not heard what steps the Christie administration might take to address its concerns.