Lesniak-Whelan-Cunningham Disappointed Republicans Failed To Support Valuable After-School Programs

NJ After 3, Work First New Jersey Child Care Programs Serve Children in Need

TRENTON – Senators Raymond J. Lesniak, Jim Whelan and Sandra Bolden Cunningham expressed disbelief today that Senate Republicans voted in lock-step against resolutions designed to restore after-school programs for children in need throughout New Jersey.

“Governor Christie’s cutting After 3 school programs targets his wrath on working single parent mothers who struggle every day to make ends meet,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “The After 3 program also protects at risk children from gangs, drugs and violence. Ending After 3 makes no sense, is irresponsible and cruel.”

“We’re not talking about State-subsidized baby-sitting,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “The programs in question help keep kids away from a life of crime, they help give kids the extra educational help and tutoring they need to be academically successful, and they help give kids an outlet to grow and to develop into productive adults. This isn’t partisan patronage or government hand-outs as some would characterize it, but valuable aid for kids in need.”

“The reality in New Jersey is that not every family looks like the Cleavers,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson. “In some cases, parents need the peace of mind in knowing that their kids have somewhere to go after school – somewhere safe – while they work to support their families. These programs make a real difference in the lives of children and parents who come from single-parent households, or in which both parents have to work to make ends meet, and I’m disappointed our Republican colleagues couldn’t overcome partisan blinders to stand with us to restore these programs.”

The first resolution, SCR-226, sponsored by Senators Lesniak and Whelan, would have overridden the Governor’s line-item veto of funding in the FY 2012 Budget approved by the Legislature for the NJ After 3 program. Under the appropriation, the $3 million appropriation in the Legislature’s FY 2012 Budget for After 3 would be restored. According to the lawmakers, by allowing the Governor’s cut in aid to stand, Senate Republicans have chosen to put the safety and well-being of 5,000 students in thirteen school districts served by NJ After 3 in jeopardy.

Studies have shown that programs like NJ After 3 achieve tangible results in the lives of students enrolled in the program. Independent analysis has demonstrated that students achieved better educational outcomes when enrolled in the program, in the areas of language arts skills and math, and most achieved better grades in school. In addition, children who are left unattended for the hours of 3 PM to 6 PM are more likely to experiment with risky behavior, and juvenile crime rate triple during that three-hour block after school.

“How many blows to the head, how many body blows do the working poor of this State have to endure before Governor Christie is satisfied they’ve suffered enough?” said Senator Lesniak. “My Republican colleagues were given a choice: they could have unburdened their consciences and their souls from the pain and suffering and cruelty that this Governor has placed upon the working poor of this State. Instead, they made the wrong choice, and sided with the Governor and his brand of politics over some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents – children living in poverty.”

“The empirical data shows that NJ After 3 gets results,” said Senator Whelan. “Whether it’s better educational outcomes or simply a safe haven for students from a life of crime, the program simply works. We need to recognize that when we’re talking about cutting NJ After 3, what we’re really talking about is leaving kids unsupervised and without the support structures needed to thrive, both academically and socially.”

The second resolution, SCR-227, sponsored by Senators Cunningham and Lesniak would have overridden the Governor’s line-item veto of a $6 million appropriation in the Legislature’s FY 2012 Budget which would have exempted families enrolled in the Work First New Jersey program from certain new requirements to be eligible to receive “wrap around” child care assistance. Under the resolution, families would not have had to meet the minimum 25-hour per week work requirement or more stringent income eligibility criteria to qualify for free before- and after-school and full time summer child care. The sponsors noted that “wrap around” child care is essential to help families at the lowest income levels obtain and retain employment.

“During these tough economic times, it can be difficult for working mothers and fathers to balance the needs of their family with the need to stay employed,” said Senator Cunningham. “Through the ancillary support services provided by Work First New Jersey, we’ve tried, in the past, to ease the path to work for families struggling to make ends meet. By imposing new restrictions on the child care component of Work First New Jersey, we’re forcing many families to make very difficult choices, and possibly even give up employment to care for their kids.”

Both resolutions were approved by all 24 Senate Democrats, but failed to garner a single vote in support from Senate Republicans.