With more New Jersey residents in need of financial assistance than ever before due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Assemblywomen Britnee N. Timberlake, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Annette Quijano sponsor a bill to improve the Work First New Jersey (WFNJ) program’s ability to support low-income families. The legislation passed the full Assembly Thursday, 54-1-23.
WFNJ is a state program that provides temporary cash assistance and other support services to families in need through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, while ultimately encouraging recipients to gain employment and become self-sufficient.
The bill (A-3905) would expand eligibility, update work requirements and change other aspects of the program in an effort to lift families out of poverty. Some of the proposed changes include:
- Granting eligibility to college students and certain documented immigrants who did not previously qualify;
- Amending acceptable work activities to include educational classes, training programs, internships and other opportunities that could help lead to higher-paying jobs;
- Expanding the reasons recipients can be excused from certain program requirements in consideration of their health, safety, and other needs;
- Raising benefits to 50% of the federal poverty level – which currently stands at $26,200 for a family of four;
- And ensuring the current public health emergency does not count toward the time limit recipients are given to comply with the program’s work requirements.
Upon the legislation passing the Assembly, Assemblywomen Timberlake (D-Essex, Passaic), Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Quijano (D-Union) released the following joint statement:
“This program provides critical support to NJ residents during their time of greatest need. It’s important to update certain requirements to make sure the program is fairer and more effective going forward.
“With an increased number of New Jerseyans facing financial insecurity due to this pandemic, it’s more important than ever to ensure WFNJ addresses their needs while recognizing the various individual and societal circumstances influencing their search for employment.
“We must offer more flexibility in terms of eligibility and work activity requirements – especially in the midst of a pandemic, when more than 1 million residents are out of work and struggling to find jobs while the state is shut down.
“Even when the current public health emergency comes to an end, the program must account for a changing job landscape.
“Constantly filling out applications is not the only way people find work these days. Many employers look for prior education, specialized training, internship experience and more when assessing potential candidates. We need to make room for program recipients to participate in a variety of opportunities that will eventually lead to their employment.
“It’s also important to recognize the yearly increases in cost-of-living and raise benefits accordingly.
“The changes in this bill will make a difference in the lives of the thousands of residents who simply need some help getting back on their feet again.”