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Muoio, Spencer, Sumter, Holley, Oliver, McKnight & Tucker Bill to Provide Assistance Benefits to Those Who Complete Drug Treatment Clears Assembly

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

The full Assembly gave final legislative approval on Thursday of legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Liz Muoio, L. Grace Spencer, Shavonda Sumter, Jamel Holley, Sheila Oliver, Angela McKnight and Cleopatra Tucker 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 was approved 47-23-2.

The bill (A-889) 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, and education – all of these things provide hope and a chance at a new start.”

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

“Residents who are making an effort to turn their lives around deserve a hand in helping them achieve their goals,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “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.

“A second chance is what this legislation will provide for residents who need one,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “We encourage people to get and keep their lives on track but stifle their progress by limiting how much assistance they can receive. It’s counterproductive for individuals working hard to reclaim their futures.”

“This legislation is about opportunity and creating more of it for residents who have made an effort to put the mistakes of the past behind them,” said Holley (D-Union). “It will help residents take a necessary step toward achieving their goals.”

“Everyone deserves an opportunity to turn their lives around,” said Oliver (D-Essex, Passaic). “By removing the ban on general assistance eligibility, we empower residents to build a new future for themselves and their families.”

“Current state law excludes residents with a history of certain offenses from access to the programs that are meant to help them get back on their feet,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “Lifting the ban is the right step to take for the people of New Jersey who truly need a second chance in life.”

“We want to do more to ensure residents every opportunity to take care of their families and become independent members of society,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “Removing the ban and updating current law to help residents get the assistance needed to keep their lives on track.”

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 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 Appropriations Committee on April 4. The Assembly Human Services Committee approved the legislation on January 27. It will now go to the Governor.