Bill Boosts Work First New Jersey Benefits
(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio sponsored to increase the maximum cash assistance benefit for families participating in the Work First New Jersey program was advanced Monday by an Assembly panel.
The bill (A-30) is part of efforts by Assembly Democrats to lift people out of poverty and rebuild New Jersey’s middle-class.
The Work First New Jersey program provides cash and other assistance to low-income families with dependent children in order to alleviate the negative effects of poverty.
The bill comes after a recent report by New Jersey Policy Perspective detailed the devastating economic and social impact of New Jersey’s decision not to increase assistance or eligibility for 29 years. The report showed how the erosion of assistance has harmed the state’s poorest children.
“As I’ve said as part of the Assembly’s ongoing effort to combat poverty and rebuild the middle-class, fixing this problem isn’t just about social responsibility. It’s also about fiscal responsibility,” said Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen). “It’s appalling that New Jersey has the lowest grant level in the Northeast and that we’ve accepted this as child poverty increases steadily, along with all the costly problems that come along with it. If we’re going to help lift people out of poverty by increasing access to work and job training, then we need to do the right thing and reform and modernize this system. Sitting back and accepting this status quo is not acceptable.”
Under the bill:
· For Fiscal Year 2017, the maximum benefit levels shall be 10 percent higher than the maximum benefits levels in effect during Fiscal Year 2016;
· For Fiscal Year 2018, the maximum benefit levels shall be 20 percent higher than the maximum benefits levels in effect during Fiscal Year 2016;
· For Fiscal Year 2019, the maximum benefit levels shall be 30 percent higher than the maximum benefits levels in effect during Fiscal Year 2016; and
· For Fiscal Year 2020 and each year thereafter, the maximum benefit levels shall be annually adjusted according to the cost of living adjustment applied under the federal Social Security program.
According to NJPP, since 1996, annual funding for this assistance has dropped by $358 million, resulting in a total of $5.6 billion in assistance that New Jersey families haven’t received to help them make ends meet. Also:
· The amount of assistance families receive has been stagnant for 29 years, at $424 per month for a family of three. As a result, today the assistance is worth less than half what it was worth in 1987.
· New Jersey’s monthly assistance is about 700 percent less than what the Department of Human Services says is needed to “maintain a decent and healthy standard of living.” This standard, which is updated each year, is currently $2,736 for a family of three.
· More than 8 in 10 New Jersey children living in poverty do not receive any such assistance.
“The statistics in this report are staggering and frankly, shameful,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Considering the well documented and costly effects of poverty on a child’s development, and long term educational and health outcomes, increases and reforms to benefits is not only the right thing to do morally, but is a wise and sensible investment in our state’s future.”
The bill was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.