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Budget Spotlight 2015: Put The Money Where It Should Be

The State Budget reflects our collective priorities for the use of state resources. The investments this document makes, and those it forgoes, play a vital role in addressing our society's current needs and steering its future. As such, the anti-poverty community is unified in one message: Put The Money Where It Should Be. 

Preventing and reducing poverty is essential to the well-being of our entire state, and it must be a clear priority in the state budget. This special series will dive into the details of where the state budget has been falling short of this imperative, and what investments are needed to reverse the course and provide a truly balanced budget for all New Jersey residents.

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  • 25 May 2015 9:00 AM | Anonymous

    If I say the phrase Budget Crisis, what is your first thought? 

    My guess is that most people think of some version of a mismatch between spending and revenues, creating the crisis of what do we cut?

    If that is your image, it is an accurate one. The state of New Jersey is clearly facing a fiscal imbalance with revenues falling short of the various obligations and important needs that the state budget needs to fund. This imbalance does, in fact, lead to a predictable crisis and the implications for New Jersey are frightening. What is more, our state has a long history of kicking problems down the road, elevating those problems to truly crisis proportions.

    But we have more than one crisis. We are facing a crisis of community.

    The seeming inevitability of not having enough to go around leaves only the crumbs for those least empowered to speak up for their needs. Over the past 6 week, this series has chronicled the ways that desperate needs are being passed over. Needs like homes people can actually afford, prevention programs to keep families out of homelessness, food for hungry families and school children, and access to health care.  The series has also explored the ways that money is being misdirected out of dedicated funds and how revenues are being diminished with unprecedented tax cuts for big corporations, while the state’s poorest workers have been the only income group to see a tax hike.

    But this is not how true communities function. Ghandi once said that “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats it weakest members.”  This truth applies to states as well.


    Budget pressures are real, there is no doubt about that, but ignoring basic needs and restricting access to opportunity cannot be the solution. We need to pull together and draw on the resources we have, including those who have benefitted the most from our state, to make sure that all members of our community have a chance.

    The Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, together with our partners, is seeking to shine a light on the community crisis facing New Jersey, and on the solutions that are proven to make a difference. Our white paper on three essential elements to the effort to end poverty provides detailed information and recommendations on what New Jersey needs to do to change course.

    We are facing real crises, but we do have options. Won’t you join us in the call to put the money where it should be.

    By Serena Rice, Executive Director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey

  • 18 May 2015 10:48 AM | Anonymous

    For all the debate surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), one thing is certain; New Jersey is seeing great benefit as a result of its implementation. Take a look at the numbers:

    • 719,000 New Jerseyans have enrolled in coverage under the ACA, cutting the rate of uninsured adults across our state in half.
    • 254,000 have selected health plans through the new health insurance Marketplace; 8 out of 10 received financial assistance in the form of tax credits to help reduce their premium contribution.
    • 465,000 individuals have been enrolled in the Medicaid expansion.

    Not only has ACA expanded coverage, but as this series has already pointed out the state has realized hundreds of millions of dollars in savings from reduced charity care and a significant increase in federal funds for the Medicaid expansion.

    So what’s the problem?  Under the Governor’s budget proposal, just a sliver of these savings would be reinvested to shore up our health care system. But, instead of diverting these state dollars away from our health care system to plug gaps elsewhere in the budget as the Governor proposes, ACA and charity care savings should be used to support initiatives that will expand access to health care coverage and services to more low and moderate income New Jerseyans. 

    Make no mistake, despite the progress we’ve made under the ACA, there is still much more that needs to be done. These state funds can (and should) be reinvested to help support initiatives that will expand access to health care coverage and services for the newly insured and those who remain uninsured across our state.  These include:

    • Increasing New Jersey’s Medicaid provider reimbursement rate – one of the lowest in the nation.  Doing so would leverage more federal matching funds and expand access to providers for the hundreds of thousands newly enrolled in the Medicaid expansion. 
    • Increase funds to boost staffing at the County Social Services agencies in meet the increased demand for application processing and case management services.
    • Subsidize reduced cost sharing for those in the Marketplace.  A recent Kaiser article reports that half of moderate income people (between 200-400% of FPL) are not able to pay the average deductibles and cost sharing required by Marketplace plans – An even bigger problem in NJ where the cost of living is so high.

    Our work is not done.  There are still an estimated 500,000 eligible adults in New Jersey who remain uninsured.  We know cost remains a barrier to many low income New Jerseyans.  So, in addition to these measures, we are urging the administration to study the option of establishing a Basic Health Plan (95% supported by federal funds) that could extend coverage to individuals and families who make less than 200% of the federal poverty line, yet make too much to qualify for Medicaid. 

    Getting coverage is just the first step.  We need to continue to build upon our enrollment success.  Put the money where it should be!  Let’s not stop working until every New Jerseyan has access to the quality, affordable health care they need and deserve.

    By Maura Collinsgru, from New Jersey Citizen Action and the NJ For Health Care Coalition

  • 13 May 2015 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    A statewide program that elicits glowing reviews, saves taxpayers money and provides excellent results verified by serious analyses is rare indeed. But New Jersey’s high quality, full-day, preschool program for at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds meets all of these criteria and more. In fact, the state’s program is a national model, closely examined by the Obama Administration before the launch of the President’s Preschool for All Initiative.

    High quality preschool is currently in place in New Jersey’s former Abbott districts and four additional districts. Seventeen more districts will receive a federal grant to provide the program to 4-year-olds from low-income families.

    Abbott preschool was promised to all at-risk students around the state as part of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA). But program expansion under the SFRA has never occurred – instead, it’s been a casualty of the Great Recession and lingering state budget issues.

    The irony is that by not investing in preschool expansion, or even providing full funding for the current preschool program, New Jersey is missing out on an important opportunity to provide poor children with the boost they need to succeed in school, a boost that will save the state money as these children continue through elementary school and beyond.

    The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has studied New Jersey’s preschool program extensively. NIEER’s analyses show long-term gains directly attributable to the program, including increased achievement in language arts, math, and science. Test score gains from one year of preschool are roughly equivalent to 10-20% of the achievement gap between minority and white students, and the gains from two years are equivalent to 20-40% of the achievement gap. Preschool enrollment was also shown to reduce special education classifications by about 40% and grade retention by about 35%.

    A decrease in special education classifications and grade retentions translates directly into savings for school districts and therefore taxpayers. An increase in achievement levels – now demonstrated through 5th grade – means less remediation and support needed by students who participated in preschool, and that also helps school budgets.

    But there’s another reason why preschool has become more necessary than ever. The number of poor children living in New Jersey has increased significantly in recent years. In fact, 37% of all public school children in the state now qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The number of students eligible for preschool under the SFRA expansion has increased by almost 50% since 2009-10 (34,846 children in 2009-10, to 51,374 in 2014-15).

    Preschool helps mitigate the impact of poverty on our youngest students. For example, studies have shown that poor children may arrive in kindergarten having learned many fewer words than their affluent peers. Preschool classrooms filled with age-appropriate books, a preschool curriculum based on numeracy and literacy often learned through play, and well-trained professionals committed to early education can help bridge the gap between rich and poor children.

    We owe it to all New Jersey residents to help the state’s children succeed in school. Luckily we know exactly what works when it comes to starting off on the right foot. Put the money where it should be.

    By Sharon Krengel, Policy & Outreach Director for the Education Law Center

  • 11 May 2015 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    In 2010, as New Jersey was in the midst of the Great Recession, legislators and the governor cut an essential tax credit for working families who aren’t making enough to make ends meet. Five years later, these half-million New Jersey families are still living with this de facto tax hike, having lost between $250 and $300 million in crucial tax credits that help them get a leg up in high-cost New Jersey. Some of the poorest families have lost $331 a year, totaling $1,650 over five years.

    As lawmakers once again compose a spending plan for the state, it’s essential – and beyond time ­– to at least reverse this tax hike and restore the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to its 2009 level. This move would give a much-needed boost to the far too many families who continue to struggle in this crawling economic recovery.

    We often hear that these are tight times for the state. And indeed, they are, with lagging economic growth keeping revenues down and the demand for essential services continuing to grow. But the investment in restoring EITC is one of the best ways to ensure working families aren’t falling further behind, while boosting the state’s economy and paving the way to a brighter future for the children in these families.

    While the $60 million cost in a $34 billion budget is minimal, the benefit to families is tremendous. The EITC promotes work, improves children’s school performance and increases children’s earnings once they reach adulthood. And it boosts the local economy by putting more dollars in working families’ pockets – dollars that don’t get socked away in offshore accounts, but rather get spent immediately and locally on essential goods and services.

    Considering how effective the EITC is in fighting poverty, and how expensive it is to get by in New Jersey, restoring the credit should be a no-brainer. But lawmakers should not stop there. We need to get back to where we were in 2009, but we must not forget that families are falling further and further behind. Policymakers should start seriously considering boosting the credit above 25 percent, as six states and the District of Columbia have done,to give low-income working New Jerseyans a better shot at the middle class.

    The state’s lowest income workers must not continue to be the only group shouldering heavier income tax burdens. Put the money where it should be.  

    By Jon Whiten, Deputy Director of New Jersey Policy Perspective.

  • 06 May 2015 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    The state budget proposal for the coming year contains precious few increases to respond to the continued increases in poverty faced by New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents. One apparent exception to this trend is the 11 percent increase in funding for the Department of Human Services (DHS), the department of the executive branch that oversees most of the social service programs that funded by or through the State – programs for healthcare, mental health, and disability services, as well as the income assistance programs and supplemental nutrition assistance that serve the poorest of the poor.

    But don’t be fooled: This increase is not so much the result of more state investment, but the increasing reliance on federal dollars to meet New Jersey’s needs. In other words, The money that comes through DHS has increased, but the state itself has not increased its budget commitment to meet the growing need. In fact, the increased federal dollars are not even going as far as they could, because some of those resources have been diverted to plug other spending gaps.

    Here are the numbers. 

    • Since 2013, state funding for human services has increased by just 4 percent, or $240 million.
    • In the same period federal funding has jumped by 62 percent, or $4.2 billion.
    • The main source of additional federal funds for DHS is for the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, an enormous success that has so far allowed 420,000 New Jerseyans to obtain health coverage.
    • The expansion also allowed the state to replace some of the state money going to NJ FamilyCare, which generated about $400 million in state savings this year – a number that will continue to grow.

    These freed-up dollars, unfortunately, haven’t been used to assist New Jerseyans, but were instead used to balance the budget. Even worse is that if these dollars had been used to meet New Jerseyans’ needs, they would have brought in even more federal dollars, which could have made vital services even better. What is so shocking about this lack of state support to leverage federal investments is fact that this has occurred at a time when the state had the biggest increase in poverty in the nation.

    And then there is access.  All of the major assistance programs whose funding comes through DHS (including Medicaid, cash assistance, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - formerly Food Stamps) are accessed on the county level through County Welfare Agencies (CWAs). The agencies are seeing substantial increases in the number of people needing their help, but they have not received the staff increases they need to handle this crisis. The predictable impact has been delays and problems with access to benefits. The state and counties have done what they can to address these problems, but without the workers to process cases, people in need fall through the cracks.

    We have the chance to do more. New Jersey has another opportunity in the 2016 budget to generate even more savings from the Medicaid expansion. According to the governor’s budget, New Jersey is saving $74 million on charity care to hospitals, since more residents have insurance and don’t have to rely on care they can’t pay for. The Governor’s plan would reinvest $15 million of these savings to increase payment rates to doctors who treat Medicaid patients – a step that will encourage more doctors to provide this treatment, and also leverage $30 million in federal dollars. However, the rate increase will only restore about half the cut from expired provisions of the ACA, and a large share of the remaining savings are being redirected to the general budget.

    Given that the state is receiving a windfall of about $500 million a year from reduced charity costs and the Medicaid expansion, it should reinvest more of those dollars to meet New Jerseyans’ growing needs. Put the money where it should be!

    By Raymond Castro, Senior Policy Analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective

  • 04 May 2015 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    Everyone agrees that children need to start their school day with a full stomach. After years of being nearly last in the nation for its participation in the federal School Breakfast Program, New Jersey is showing strong improvements. This year, the state moved to 28th nationally, compared to its previous ranking of 46th for student participation in this critical child nutrition program.

    In fact, New Jersey achieved the greatest rise in the nation in the percent of low-income students eating breakfast at school, increasing nearly 13 percent from the 2012-13 to the 2013-14 school years, according to a national report by the Food Research and Action Center.

    This progress is the result of a growing number of New Jersey districts switching to serving "breakfast after the bell," rather than before school, when most students have not yet arrived. This approach, typically done in the classroom during the first few minutes of the school day, significantly boosts participation, giving more kids the nutritious start to the school day that can help them concentrate and learn.Since the program is federally funded, most districts with high concentrations of low-income children can feed all students at little or no extra cost, significantly leveraging the considerable investment New Jersey makes in public education.

    The NJ Food for Thought Campaign, launched in 2011, has been instrumental in convincing school officials to change the way they serve breakfast. The campaign is a partnership among New Jersey anti-hunger, education and health organizations, state agencies and child advocates. The Food Research Action Center, the American Dairy Association and Council and the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Council are the campaign's national partners.

    Since the start of the campaign, the number of low-income children receiving school breakfast has jumped 59 percent, according to NJ Kids Count data. Despite this progress, New Jersey has about 300,000 low-income students who are still missing out on breakfast.

    With growing poverty and hunger, school breakfast is one of the most effective anti-hunger programs available. Not only can schools feed hungry children, they can also bring more federal dollars to local schools to ensure that every child has a healthy breakfast each school day.

    According to the 4th annual NJ School Breakfast Report, produced by Advocates for Children of New Jerseyabout 50 high-poverty school districts are still feeding 30 percent or fewer eligible students. Despite the progress we have made in recent years, there are still approximately 300,000 hungry children in our schools who should be getting school breakfast. These "school breakfast underachievers" need a little extra push to implement the common sense "breakfast after the bell" approach and the State budget can provide that incentive. By reinstating the ten cents (10⊄) per meal breakfast supplement for school breakfasts, the state can remove the fiscal constraints for schools to serve these needed meals in the classroom.

    A small investment can draw down many more millions in federal money and help to give all New Jersey children a better chance for school success. Our children need to know that their hunger is a priority... put the money where it should be

    By Adele LaTourette, Director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition

    For more info, visit New Jersey Food For Thought School Breakfast Campaign.

  • 29 Apr 2015 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    A lot of discussion around the state has focused on the gas tax.  Roads in good condition are integral to our ability to get to work in a state that is heavily dependent on cars to get there.  But how far would we get if our tanks were empty.  Isn’t food and our ability to secure enough food to “tank up” even more important to a functioning working society.  Surely no one would argue that kids growing up today need healthy food now to be at their best tomorrow.  

    So why is our investment in food shrinking not growing?

    I am proud to be in a state that actually includes food support in the state budget.  As Director of Advocacy for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey I have seen firsthand how the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP) funding of $6.8 million dollars has allowed us to strive to meet the growing needs of families struggling to put food on the table. But ask any of the feeding programs that support those struggling families and they will tell you that there are more people not less and not always enough food to meet the growing demand. A recent study found that 91% of feeding programs say they fed as many or more people than the previous year and at the same time 28% say they had to turn away clientsThe number one reason cited was that they ran out of food.  

    While the economy’s recovery, slow at best, is one factor, the real reason behind this disturbing trend is a cut in government support for nutrition programs or “fuel for the body”.   The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the largest and most effective federal nutrition assistance program in the United States has been cut twice in recent years. Last year’s cut left New Jersey as only 1 of 3 states that could not mitigate the federal cuts with state funds leaving families affected only one place to go: their local food pantry.  At the same time, year over year, five years to be exact, the funds in the SFPP program have remained at the same level.  To echo my colleagues, flat funding is in reality less funding.  As the prices of food have increased, the foods that can be purchased with the same dollars have decreased. Food purchased last year with SFPP funds amounted to half a million pounds less food purchased than five years ago, leaving the pantries and the people that they provide for running on empty.

    In 2007 the State of New Jersey made a bold move and created the State Food Purchase Program to help provide healthy and nutritious food to feed people affected by hunger.  To continue that effective and forwarding thinking investment now they should put the money where it should be and provide yearly increases to keep up a consistent level of support for the program. 

    By Diane Riley, Community FoodBank of New Jersey. 

  • 27 Apr 2015 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    Imagine that you are a single mother working two minimum wage jobs.  Every month you have to juggle payments for rent, utilities, child care, car, insurance, gas, food, medicine, and clothing.  One emergency – sickness causing you to miss work, divorce, death of a loved one, job loss – can upend your balancing act.  It can be hard to really understand what that monthly, or even daily struggle can feel like, but a unique resource to help enter the experience of struggle is provided by the online game called “Spent,” developed by the Urban Ministries of Durham, North Carolina. http://playspent.org.

    New Jersey Needs More Investment in Prevention.  New Jersey has two programs — Homeless Prevention Program (HPP) and Social Services for the Homeless (SSH) —  that help prevent homelessness among the working poor and those not eligible for welfare. These two programs provide emergency short-term assistance for working families that might otherwise lose their homes. The economic crises that can lead to homelessness vary, so these programs offer flexibility in the kind of help they can provide, including payments for rent, security or utility deposits, utility payments, or emergency food, as well as limited case management when a working family needs help.

    Just this past Friday, Governor Christie released the Final Report of the Interagency Council on Homelessness. One of the important recommendations of that Report is to expand Social Services for the Homeless to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless.

    Why is Help Needed for Working Families? As a recent article in the New York Times highlighted, our low wage structure means that many workers – cashiers, home health care aides, food service employees – can only get through the month by relying on public assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid,.   For low wage working families like these, HPP and SSH are the only programs New Jersey offers to make sure that an emergency doesn’t lead to homelessness. The proposed state budget would provide a combined total of just over $21.4 million between the two programs, an amount that has been virtually stagnant since the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The flat funding of these programs year after year – when inflation and expenses have increased -- means that there is less money to help people each year.

    Preventing Homelessness is Compassionate.  Sometimes we see individuals who are homeless and think “this could never happen to me.” But in reality, it's not as hard as you might think to end up without a roof over your head. In fact, many people are one step away from financial misfortune that could leave them homeless, especially in New Jersey where almost a third of our residents live with incomes that fall below the state’s high cost of living, unemployment is high, and we are severely lacking in affordable homes for very low-income renters.  Sometimes low wage earners who experience a crisis can stay with family or friends to avoid homelessness, but when that is not an option we need a safety net to prevent homelessness.

    Preventing Homelessness is Fiscally Responsible. Using tax dollars to prevent homelessness is cost-effective in the short and long-term. The dollars we use for short-term assistance to working families to prevent homelessness is a wise investment because it is much less expensive than providing shelter and services to families after they become homeless.  For example, the per night cost to stay in a shelter or motel is $50-85, adding up into the thousands over the course of a month or two, and much higher than helping a family with rent to stabilize them for the same period.   

    Moreover, homelessness is extremely traumatic, especially for children, with resulting human and economic costs for many years.  Having a home is the bedrock of our security and safety.  By investing in homeless prevention, we invest in the mental, physical, and emotional health of the next generation.

    End Homelessness by Preventing Homelessness:  In New Jersey, there is bi-partisan support for cost-effective solutions and wise investments of our tax dollars. We can prevent homelessness . . .  put the money where it should be!

    By Deb Ellis, Executive Director of the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness

  • 22 Apr 2015 11:21 AM | Anonymous

    The most densely populated state in the nation is also the most economically diverse. New Jersey is home to some of the wealthiest places as well as some of the poorest. The problem we’re experiencing is that due to our slow economic recovery, the foreclosure crisis, and Superstorm Sandy, a growing number of our residents are finding themselves among the working poor. Sadly, the State isn’t making the crucial investments needed to create more affordable home opportunities.

    New Jersey has an imbalanced housing market. Luxury rentals and McMansions are plentiful but more modest affordable rentals and starter homes are few and far between. As housing costs outpace wages, demand for affordable homes is soaring, but we are faced with a housing crisis because housing production dollars are being diverted and we are underinvesting in assistance for those who need it.    

    The State Rental Assistance Program (SRAP) assists very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe housing. In recent years however, the number of SRAP vouchers have declined due to under-investment despite the increased need. In order to address the housing needs of extremely low-income individuals and individuals with disabilities, SRAP must be funded at a level that will provide the full 5,000 vouchers funded in fiscal year 2011. In addition, Governor Christie has used dollars from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund - which is intended for housing production - to fund SRAP. This has left no money from the State's fund, which is dedicated for affordable housing to rehabilitate or build new homes low income people can afford. We need to free up money for housing production by funding at least half of SRAP from either the General Fund or a dedicated funding stream to meet a demand that has surpassed supply.

    Investments into the SRAP program and affordable home production is an economic driver. When a person is spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, they are unable to spend on activities that spur our economy like going out to dinner, buying clothing, or traveling for example. If less people are going out and spending, patronizing local businesses, it puts jobs in jeopardy. Job cuts result in the need for financial assistance, eventually bringing the problem back full circle. 

    According to a study from the National Association of Home Builders, an investment of $25 million dollars means:

    • 1,100 one-time jobs would be created, including both construction jobs and related secondary jobs created as a result.
    • These workers will earn $72 million in total income, and pay $1.6 million in state income taxes.
    • Once the homes are built, they and their residents will generate 200 ongoing jobs, and $220,000 per year in state income taxes.
    • Over 5 years, the state and its localities will realize over $11 million in total sales, income and property tax revenues.

    Funding SRAP and allowing the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to be used for housing production is essential for helping our economy prosper. Every NJ resident should have a quality home they can afford. The State budget should be used for long term planning and it should be a vehicle for making NJ a better place to live and work in; put the money where it should be!

    By Arnold Cohen, Senior Policy Coordinator for the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey

    For additional evidence of the positive economic impact of investment in the production of homes that people can afford, see here, and here.

  • 20 Apr 2015 12:31 PM | Anonymous

    It really is a simple economic concept. For the last ten years non-profits in the state of NJ have been trying to convince our elected officials that flat funding of services and programs serving those living in poverty or with a disability is, in reality, less funding. Inflation is a familiar concept in the US economy: costs go up year over year. The exact inflation rate varies, but the direction is consistent. Nevertheless, this reality has been ignored in the state’s budgeting for non-profit service providers.  If expenses were decreasing in our economy then we’d be cheering flat funding.  However, the reality, as we all know is quite the opposite.  If one were to shop with $100 a week for groceries today you could not get as much food as you did five years ago.

    Yet, vital programs that serve those barely making ends meet, those with serious mental illness,and seniors on fixed incomes, are expected to be grateful that funds have not been directly cut.  The trend, known as flat funding, impacts a variety of programs, from benefits that individuals and families receive directly from government programs to services from non-profit programs that contract with the state.  One has to really pay attention to words used in the FY16 State Budget Summary to understand the semantics of how flat funding is represented as an “investment”.  Words such as reaffirms, maintains, or will continue to provide over $x billion…are smoke screens to the reality that  flat funding and disinvestment is hurting effective social service programs in our state.

    Throughout our blog series you’ll be hearing about the impact of flat funding in the areas that are crucial to progress in ending poverty: housing, hunger and economic empowerment.  The less obvious impact of flat funding, on the non-profit organizations and those they serve, is equally disconcerting. As an advocate for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton I have seen first hand the impact on our programs. Increased demand paired with flat funding often leads to longer waits for those seeking help, reduced hours at our food pantries, and fewer public presentations on preventing domestic violence, to name a few. We know a major part of this mismatch is the lack of a cost of living adjustment in state contracts, widening the gap between revenue and cost.  In 2013, a report done by the Urban Institute found that “76% of New Jersey non-profit survey respondents, the highest percentage in the country, indicated that contracts that don’t cover the full costs of providing services is a problem.”

    Like any other business, providers’ expenses are subject to inflation also- higher health insurance costs for our employees and increased rates for food and transportation that support our programs are just two examples.  However, it’s our workforce that is really impacted….and that impacts those we serve.  Many of those who work with our most vulnerable residents have not seen increases in their paychecks since 2008, because the state contracts that pay these salaries have not kept pace with costs.  The NJ Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA) has written a compelling piece on how this has impacted staff turnover, staff safety and continuity of care for those served.  They also found that the NJ State Workforce has had a 27.25% increase in wages over the last 12 years compared to only 7% for community based behavioral health providers.  Similar challenges impact programs providing services to the working poor, homeless, children, and many others who are in need of help. 

    True investments need to be made and our state budget should reflect this.  Continuing to ignore the reality that inflation exists only increases the vulnerability of those served by state programs and non-profits.  In the long run we know inadequate help leads to crises, with much higher costs to the state as well as more suffering for those who can least tolerate it.  Flat funding is less funding.  It’s simple…put the money where it should be!

    by Joyce Campbell, Associate Executive Director for External Affairs, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton

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