(TRENTON) – To expand access to crucial state assistance for New Jersey residents who’ve fallen on difficult times, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Raj Mukherji, Angela McKnight and Nicholas Chiaravalloti that would ensure struggling families receive Emergency Assistance to help meet basic needs cleared an Assembly panel on Monday.
“Our state’s Emergency Assistance program serves as a critical lifeline in situations where residents may have lost their home or possessions due to a catastrophe or are unemployed and on the verge of being forced out onto the street,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “This bill would ensure that someone experiencing extreme hardship or facing homelessness a second time isn’t disqualified from receiving the helping hand they need to get back on their feet, while safeguarding the system from abuse.”
“Unfortunately, some New Jersey residents, especially in densely populated urban areas, experience seemingly unthinkable hardships which can include losing their home, food supply and clothing due to a multitude of disasters,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “By implementing these changes, we can ensure that we assist needy New Jerseyans to the best of our ability, while not allowing the system to be taken advantage.”
The bill (A-1887) would allow a person who previously received Emergency Assistance (EA) to become eligible for twelve months of assistance if it has been at last seven years since they last received EA.
Those who qualify for WorkFirstNJ, the state’s welfare reform program to help individuals secure employment and become self-sufficient, are eligible for EA under certain circumstances. Such scenarios include if they become homeless or at immediate risk of becoming homeless, or when they experience a substantial loss of housing, food, clothing or household furnishings due to fire, flood or similar disaster.
EA benefits include, but are not limited to, temporary rental assistance or back rent or mortgage payments, utility payments, transportation to search for housing, moving expenses, and essential food, clothing, shelter, and household furnishings.
“The benefits of Emergency Assistance go far beyond material items. This program helps struggling families retain their dignity in the face of adversity,” said Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). “With this bill, even if they’ve fallen on hard times before, families will have access to the help they need if they need it again.”
EA is generally limited to 12 months, with additional assistance for up to six months in limited cases of extreme hardship. However, some people who receive EA pay the state back for those benefits if they qualify for Social Security and receive retroactive payments. EA funds are then repaid to the state.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee; it now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.