Bill Boosts Work First New Jersey Benefits

Legislation Assembly Democrats Speaker Vincent Prieto, Elizabeth Muoio, Sheila Oliver, Gary Schaer, Jamel Holley, Raj Mukherji and Annette Quijano sponsored to increase the maximum cash assistance benefit for families participating in the Work First New Jersey program gained final legislative approval from the Senate on Monday.

The bill (A-30) is part of efforts by Assembly Democrats to lift people out of poverty and rebuild New Jersey’s middle-class. It was approved by the Assembly in March and is part of the Democratic state budget proposal.

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 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.

“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.”

“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.”

“This is a fiscally responsible bill that will save taxpayers money in the long run,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “The more we do now to provide a helping hand, the less we’ll have to do later to relieve the difficulties that come with poverty. We must act and act now.”

“Sitting back and accepting this status quo is unacceptable,” said Schaer (D-Passaic/Bergen). “The erosion of assistance has, among other concerns, harmed the state’s poorest children. We cannot let that continue.”

“As a result of this stagnation, this vital assistance is worth less than half what it was worth in 1987,” said Holley (D-Union). “This has been harmful to our state and exacerbated the problems that coincide with poverty. We need to do more.”

“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,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “Needless to say, this damage cannot be allowed to continue. Standing idle is not an option.”

“More than 8 in 10 New Jersey children living in poverty do not receive any such assistance,” said Quijano (D-Union). “That’s appalling and, quite frankly, embarrassing. If we want better outcomes, we need better programs.”

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.

The legislation now heads to the Governor’s desk.