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Muoio & Spencer Bill to Provide Assistance Benefits to Those Who Complete Drug Treatment Approved by Assembly Panel

Bill Would Provide Financial Assistance, Job Training & Education through Work First NJ

(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Monday approved legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Liz Muoio and L. Grace Spencer that would revise the requirements for eligibility restrictions for receiving general assistance benefits under the Work First New Jersey program for individuals who have been convicted of an offense involving the use, possession, or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance.

The bill is part of efforts by Assembly Democrats to lift people out of poverty and rebuild New Jersey’s middle-class.

“It can be tremendously hard to turn one’s life around after a drug conviction because of all the doors that close in their face due to legal constraints, especially for those who don’t have family or friends to rely on for assistance,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “This change is designed to help end the cycle of addiction and recidivism by giving people the means to turn their life around. Financial assistance, job training, education – all of these things provide hope and a chance at a new start.”

Muoio and Spencer noted that this is the only type of federal offense that bars individuals who are convicted from being eligible for these benefits.

“Everyone deserves a little help getting to the next phase in life when they need it,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “Residents who are making an effort to turn their lives around deserve a hand in helping them achieve their goals. These residents have experienced their share of setbacks, roadblocks and government red tape. Now, if we are to close the revolving door into our jails and courts, we have to acknowledge those who are working hard to get their lives back on track.”

WorkFirst NJ, the state’s welfare reform program, emphasizes work as the first step toward building a new life and a brighter future. Through cash assistance, job training, education, work activities and many other support services, the program aims to help people get off welfare, secure employment and become self-sufficient.

Currently, anyone convicted of offenses involving the use, possession, or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance is ineligible for general assistance benefits with the exception of someone who may be eligible for benefits if they enroll in or completes a licensed residential drug treatment program. For those enrolled in a treatment program, this exception is contingent on continued participation in the program and periodic drug screenings demonstrating they have not used any controlled dangerous substance.

There is currently no exception to the general assistance eligibility restriction for persons convicted of offenses involving distribution of a controlled dangerous substance.

The bill (A-889) removes the lifetime ban on eligibility for general assistance benefits for individuals who have been convicted of offenses involving distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. These individuals would be subject to the same requirements for drug treatment as individuals with convictions related to drug possessions or use.

Also under the bill, an individual who has a past drug conviction may receive general assistance benefits without enrolling in or completing a drug treatment program if either: (1) an appropriate treatment program is not available; or (2) the person is excused from enrolling in a treatment program for good cause pursuant to regulation.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee and now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.