At last week’s APN General Meeting we heard from advocates from the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, New Jersey Policy Perspective, the Drug Policy Alliance, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, and the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey about several important issues. Below is a round-up of these issues, as well as information on bills on Governor Christie’s desk that need your action, and Poverty Solutions bills in the legislature.
APN General Meeting Round-Up:
Estate Tax: There is a bipartisan effort underway to eliminate the estate tax, New Jersey’s most progressive tax. This tax is owed by just 4 percent of all estates in New Jersey – the state’s wealthiest estates -- and brings in about $300 million a year, needed revenue to fund human needs programs. For more information on this important tax and why we must preserve it, check out NJPP’s testimony on this issue. NJPP has also been busting the myth that New Jersey’s taxes cause the wealthy to leave our state. Check out the facts here.
SNAP Benefits and Childless Adults: The SNAP (Food Stamp) program has work requirements, and time limits on how long “able-bodied” adults without dependents (called “ABAWDs”) can receive SNAP benefits without meeting those work requirements. For many years, these time limits have been “Waived” (not enforced) by the federal and state governments because high unemployment makes it hard for people to meet the requirements. A recent state decision, however, now means if you are considered an ABAWD, you may only receive SNAP benefits for a total of 3 full months during any 36-month period, unless you are exempt or meeting the work requirement.
Legal Services of New Jersey has created this form that service providers can help recipients fill out to determine if they are either already meeting the requirement, or if they should be exempt. The form and any verification should be submitted to the recipient’s County Welfare Agency, and the One Stop Career Center if he/she has been told to go there. Legal Services has also created a fact sheet on this issue inEnglish and Spanish. Some counties have received temporary waivers, which means that the time limits will not start until later in the year. For a breakdown of counties, their waiver status, and when termination of benefits may begin please click here.
Voter Registration: Non-profits (including 501(c)3 organizations) can do a lot to engage potential voters, including holding voter registration drives. For information on voter registration deadlines and links to voter registration forms, please visit theLeague of Women Voters of New Jersey website. The League is also available to help with voter registration drives and to answer questions about what non-profits can do.
ACTION NEEDED – CALL THE GOVERNOR AND ASK HIM TO SIGN THESE BILLS
Please call the Governor and ask him to sign S983/A2568 to make sure that the poorest of the poor do not become homeless because of arbitrary time limits.
- Restore Support for Emergency Assistance: Following recent devastating but reversible policy shifts in the Emergency Assistance program, the Administration has proposed a nearly 30% reduction in funding for Emergency Assistance (WFNJ and General Assistance) compared with FY15 expenditures. This reduction reflects deliberate restrictions in access to the program, rather than a reduction in need. The Emergency Assistance program is essential to a functioning safety net and adequate appropriations must be included in the budget in order to support restoration of this support to the individuals that need it, including implementation of the provisions ofS983/A2568 to provide exemptions from EA time limits for the most vulnerable.S983/A2568 - $46 million
Please call the Governor and ask him to sign S650/A1210 to maximize federal dollars for nutrition assistance for the hungry.
- Restoring Heat & Eat: Restoring “Heat and Eat” to the state’s SNAP program would benefit approximately 159,000 of New Jersey’s neediest households and cost the state approximately $3 million dollars. In turn, this investment is estimated to generate $300 million in federal funds into the state’s economy.S650/A1210 - $3 million (For more information on Heat and Eat and other hunger issues, please click here.)
Please call the Governor and ask him to sign S993/A2777 to protect hungry adults who are unable to find work.
- Waivers from SNAP Time Limits: Legislation to require the department to request time limit waivers for ABAWDs for certain areas of the state where unemployment remains high has also been passed by the legislature.S993/A2777
Please call the Governor and ask him to sign S992/A2750 to strengthen New Jersey’s pay equity protections.
- Pay Equity: New Jersey women, particularly women of color, earn substantially less than their male counterparts and current protections do not do enough to help women hold their employers accountable for fair pay. Legislation to strengthen pay equity protections (S992/A2750), extend the statute of limitations, and require reporting for state contracts has been passed with strong bi-partisan support from both houses. For more information, seethis letter to the Governor from the Time to Care Coalition.
Please call the Governor and ask him to sign (S601/A889) to give New Jerseyans with drug convictions a second chance.
- Removing ban on General Assistance: Legislation (S601/A889) has passed the State legislature that would provide access to this essential safety net program for individuals with past drug distribution convictions (the only group currently banned for life). This access will allow individuals to receive the treatment and supports they need to reintegrate into society, and poses a minimum cost (est. $3.9 million).
POVERTY SOLUTIONS BILLS IN THE LEGISLATURE
- Supporting the State Rental Assistance Program: The Governor’s budget proposal includes flat funding for SRAP, including $18.5 million of line-item appropriation and an additional $20 million appropriated through language. This flat funding is inadequate to maintain existing vouchers given increasing housing costs, much less to address that large unmet need for deeply subsidized rents. Legislation passed by the Assembly provides an additional $10.5 million appropriation which would provide the resources to fund an additional 1,000 rental vouchers. A1000 - $10.5 million
- Welfare grants: Eligibility and cash assistance provided to families in WorkFirst New Jersey has not been increased in 29 years. Legislation passed by the Assembly and passed through committee in the Senate would increase assistance by 30 percent over three years and require cost of living increases every year thereafter. This would directly benefit over 80,000 parents and children and 28,000 adults without dependents who are enrolled in WFNJ, as well as make eligible many other New Jerseyans who now live in extreme poverty without access to assistance. A30 - $14.6 million. (To learn more check out this report from NJPP.)
- Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit: The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is perhaps the most celebrated bipartisan anti-poverty program, with strong positive impacts for both low-income families and local economies. New Jersey’s state EITC is currently set at 30% of the federal EITC, and legislation passed by the Assembly would increase this to 40%, making New Jersey’s credit arguably the strongest state program in the nation. The increase would boost the incomes of nearly 600,000 working families in the state who aren’t paid enough to get by, lift or keep many of these people out of poverty, and make the local and state tax structure more equitable. A40 - $122 million
- Supporting the expansion of School Breakfast: Restoring the school breakfast incentive fund and targeting it to only those schools serving breakfast after the bell would bring an estimated $75 million in federal dollars into the state, even if it only went to school districts in which 30-80% of the children were eligible for free or reduced price meals. The incentive fund would provide a 10 cents/meal supplement to school districts that implement the “breakfast after the bell” approach in order to encourage districts to use this evidence-based model of increasing participation. There are no definitive estimates of the cost, but OLS estimates it could cost up to $6 million for A1567. (To bring the breakfast after the bell program to your school please contact Diane Riley at email@example.com.)
- Funding to the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund Restored! In response to concerted advocacy, Governor Christie added $10 million to state funding for lead remediation. More than $50 million has been steered into the general treasury since 2009, instead of into this fund to help families eliminate the lead contamination in their homes. Lead is known to cause permanent neurological damage in children, negatively affects academic performance, and can cause a wide array of learning disabilities and behavioral issues. 3,100 children in the last year alone have been diagnosed with elevated blood lead level. APN joined in the advocacy for S996/A1378, which requires this investment of $10 million.