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Senator Nellie Pou, D-Passaic and Bergen, speaks during a Senate Budget Committee hearing on the FY 2012 State Budget.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Nellie Pou and Senate President Steve Sweeney that would establish the “New Jersey Investing in You Promise Neighborhood Commission” was approved today by the full Senate.

Under the bill, S-999, the 20-member commission would examine the effect of poverty on the development of the children in the state’s most fiscally-distressed urban and rural areas, and develop recommendations about how local nonprofits, civic organizations, religious institutions, and institutions of higher education in New Jersey can help to support and improve the lives of children living in these areas.

The Commission would also analyze the current status and impact of the state’s two federally-designated Promise Neighborhoods in Newark and Camden, and create a report describing their successes, identifying areas in need of improvement, considering possible expansion to other municipalities in the State, and if so, identifying funding that would be available to do so.

“Promise Neighborhoods rebuild communities and offer children in distressed neighborhoods access to a great education and support services for their families that will help them thrive,” Senator Pou (D-Passaic, Bergen). “Engaging children and families from the very early stages of development and continuously as they grow provides positive outcomes and makes future prospects of going to college or having a successful career reachable.”

The Commission, under the bill, would be tasked with creating a master action plan to expand the number of Promise Neighborhoods in the state by 2017, with a focus on Trenton, Paterson, and Vineland. It would also be required to design a plan for the creation of a Promise Neighborhood that will replicate, guide, and provide technical assistance for all programs throughout New Jersey, and a plan for the efficient use of federal or State funds that may be allocated for the expansion of the Promise Neighborhood initiative. The Commission would be required to issue its findings in a report to the Governor, the Senate President and the Assembly Speaker within one year of its establishment.

“Too many of our urban children and families are trapped in communities that make student achievement, secure employment, and a safe and healthy living environment seem like a distant dream,” said Senator Sweeney. “Promise Neighborhoods provide children with support from cradle to college or into a career that will help to break the cycle of poverty and nurture successful outcomes. It is part of our ongoing commitment to economic growth and opportunity for everyone.”

An initiative developed by the Obama administration, Promise Neighborhoods support community-driven, place-based efforts to improve educational and developmental outcomes for children in the most distressed communities. By providing access to quality education and strong systems of family and community support, children are at the epicenter of services weaved around them to ensure their long-term success.

New Jersey currently has two federally-designated promise neighborhoods in Newark and Camden and a similar state one in Paterson, where nonprofit, community-based, civic, and religious organizations collaborate with schools and communities to provide meaningful support for children from birth to graduation and beyond. This bill would appropriate two-million dollars to expand the promise neighborhood initiative.

The legislation is part of the greater “New Jersey: Investing In You” economic investment plan announced by Senate Democrats in December that targets six key areas with legislation: early childhood education, college affordability, world class transportation, promise neighborhoods to revitalize communities, public-private partnerships to aid job creation and retirement security. Senator Pou is leading the effort on Promise Neighborhoods.

The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 23-14. It now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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