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Muoio, Sumter, Holley, Oliver, McKnight & Tucker Bill to Provide Assistance Benefits to Those Who Undergo Drug Treatment Heads Back to Governor

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

The full Assembly on Monday granted final legislative approval to a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Liz Muoio, Shavonda Sumter, Jamel Holley, Sheila Oliver, Angela McKnight and Cleopatra Tucker that would ease eligibility restrictions for receiving general assistance benefits under the Work First New Jersey program while ensuring that recipients receive needed drug treatment continued advancing.

The bill (S-601/A-889), approved by a vote of 63-8-1, is part of continued 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.”

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 or possession of a controlled dangerous substance must enroll in or complete a licensed residential (inpatient) drug treatment program in order to be eligible to receive general assistance benefits. This bill would permit enrollment in, or completion of, a licensed outpatient drug treatment program to alternatively satisfy this requirement.

“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.”

The bill was originally sent to the Governor in April, but it was conditionally vetoed to remove the requirement that would have allowed those convicted of drug distribution to be eligible for general assistance benefits. The Senate concurred with those changes last month and the Assembly granted final approval today.

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.