Measure Would Use 0.5% on Lottery Winnings of $600 or More to Provide Competitive Grants to Not-for-Profit Entities
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Ronald L. Rice and Jim Whelan which would create a dedicated funding mechanism for after-school programs for at-risk kids from a 0.5% surcharge on any New Jersey Lottery winnings of $600 or more was approved yesterday by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee by a vote of 3-2.
“We know that after-school programs, particularly those geared towards at-risk kids, are valuable to the communities that they serve, but they’re still not off-limits when it comes to the State budgeting process under Governor Christie,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “Last year, the Governor eliminated funding for NJ After 3 – probably the most successful model of what these programs can be – and only after weeks of limbo were we able to convince him to restore the program. Rather than leave valuable after-school programs to the budgeting whims of the Governor, we will be creating a new, dedicated funding source through this legislation to keep these programs open in good times and in bad so that they can focus on their mission of serving at-risk children.”
“Programs like NJ After 3 and other after school programs make a positive impact on our communities,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic, who serves as Chair of the Senate State Government Committee. “These programs keep kids off the street, giving them a place to just be kids, free from the pressures of street gangs or the temptations of illegal drugs, and they give working parents the peace of mind in knowing that their kids are safe and doing something productive with their time. By dedicating funding through the State lottery, we can protect and insulate these after-school programs from uncertainty that comes part and parcel with the annual budgeting process.”
The bill, S-2275, would impose a 0.5 percent tax, in addition to any other taxes authorized by law, on New Jersey Lottery winnings greater than or equal to $600. Revenue generated from this surcharge would be deposited into the “After School Program Fund,” established within the Department of Education and administered by the Commissioner of Education. Under the bill, these revenues would go to support a grant program, so that not-for-profit entities which run after school programs in school districts in which at least 40 percent of the students are considered at-risk – identified in the school funding law as living in households in which the income is no greater than 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold, or $42,642.50 a year for a family of four – could apply. The grant program would not supersede any statutory obligations to fund after-school programs that may currently apply.
“At its lowest applicable dollar amount, we’re talking about $3 on a $600 prize from the New Jersey Lottery,” said Senator Whelan. “But taken in the aggregate, we have the potential to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars which could go to worthy after-school programs designed to provide New Jersey’s at-risk kids with a safe and nurturing environment in which to grow up. At the end of the day, this has the potential to raise significant funds for after-school programs without impacting the State’s bottom line.”
The bill sponsors noted that when the state lottery program was instituted more than 40 years ago, one of the primary reasons was to provide more funding for education in New Jersey. Since its inception, the lottery has provided funds to New Jersey’s community colleges, the School Nutrition Program and the New Jersey School for the Deaf. The lawmakers argued that tapping lottery prizes to pay for after-school programs in at-risk areas is consistent with the original intent of the lottery program.
“Since it was first instituted, the New Jersey Lottery has provided funds for many worthwhile educational programs,” said Senator Rice. “When you look at the societal benefits of after-school programs in keeping kids out of a life of crime, and you look at how these programs help kids do better in school and become more engaged in their coursework, that seems to fit the definition of a ‘worthwhile educational program.’ By investing dedicated funds into the State’s after-school programs, we can give kids a fighting chance to succeed in life and avoid the pitfalls of gangs and drugs that so many children fall into in poorer, urban communities throughout New Jersey.”
The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for review before going to the full Senate for consideration.