Measure Would Use 0.5% on Lottery Winnings of $600 or More to Provide Competitive Grants to Not-for-Profit Entities
TRENTON – Last week, Senators Ronald L. Rice and Jim Whelan introduced legislation 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.
“We’ve seen that valuable after-school programs for at-risk kids – programs like NJ After 3 – are not off-limits when it comes to the volatility of the State budgeting process under this Governor,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “Last year, Governor Christie eliminated funding for NJ After 3, and thankfully, we convinced him to restore the funding to maintain this program which keeps kids off the streets and gives them a safe place to go after school. Through this legislation, we’re dedicating a small portion of lottery winnings to fund non-profit after school programs, so that these programs are somewhat insulated from the political wrangling that goes into the budget and can focus on their mission of serving at-risk children.”
“Programs like NJ After 3 and other after school programs make such an important difference in our communities,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “They give our kids a place to be kids, free from the pressures of gangs or the temptations of illegal drugs, and they give working parents the peace of mind in knowing that their children are in a safe and nurturing environment. By guaranteeing funding for these programs through the State lottery, we can preserve these programs moving forward without worrying year in and year out about the larger State budget picture.”
The bill, S-2275, would impose a 0.5 percent surcharge, 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 applied across all lottery winnings in the State, we’re talking about millions of dollars in funding which would go to worthy after school programs for New Jersey’s at-risk kids. That’s a significant amount of money to fund grants to after-school programs statewide, and it does not affect New Jersey’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.
“From its inception, the New Jersey Lottery has provided funds for worthwhile educational programs,” said Senator Rice. “When you view the societal benefits of after-school programs, particularly in poorer communities where both parents may have to work full-time to make ends meet, these programs certainly fit the definition of ‘worthwhile educational programs.’ By investing in New Jersey’s after school programs, we can keep kids off the streets, we can provide access to peer mentoring and tutoring options, and we can give our kids the tools they need to excel and avoid becoming just another crime statistic.”
The bill will be referred to the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee, which Senator Whelan chairs.