TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Teresa Ruiz which would provide financial assistance to individuals and families as part of the “New Jersey Economic Assistance and Recovery Plan” was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today by a vote of 9-0, with 4 abstentions.
“During these tough economic times, we’ve read a lot about the plight of corporations, businesses and banks that are on the verge of collapse,” said Senator Ruiz, D-Essex and Union, and a member of the Budget Committee. “While we need to do what we can to help keep these financial institutions and corporations afloat, we need to be concerned, first and foremost, with families and individuals struggling to keep their heads above water and meet the high cost of living in the Garden State. It’s important to ensure corporate viability and protect jobs in this economy, but it’s far more important to ensure that hard-hit New Jerseyans receive the safety net support they need to meet their basic human needs.”
The bill, S-1, would make a supplemental appropriation of $22.5 million in FY 2009 to provide food, energy and legal aid assistance to individuals and families in need under the “New Jersey Economic Assistance and Recovery Plan.”
Under the bill, $3 million would be appropriated to the Department of Agriculture for the Hunger Initiative and Food Assistance programs, to provide additional support to food banks and soup kitchens throughout the State. The bill appropriates $10 million to the Department of Treasury for NJ SHARES (New Jersey Statewide Heating Assistance and Referral for Energy Services), which helps State residents under financial strain cope with heating and utility bills. The bill also appropriates $9.2 million for a grant to Legal Services of New Jersey to provide legal assistance to homeowners and tenants in civil matters related to financial distress, including mortgage foreclosure, bankruptcy, debt collection and eviction. And finally, the bill appropriates $300,000 to the Community Health Law Project to provide the same sort of assistance as Legal Services, but with an emphasis on assisting the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, blind and visually impaired, and the State’s HIV/AIDS population.
“New Jersey, and the nation in general, faces the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and as we work to stabilize our State’s finances and protect jobs for our residents, we need to provide support to those residents in greatest economic need,” said Senator Ruiz. “This bill represents a multi-faceted approach to meeting the most basic necessities of all people, and enhancing existing safety net programs which are currently stretched to the limit as more and more people are forced take advantage of the extra help.
“To survive the economic maelstrom gripping the entire nation, we’re going to have to come up with creative solutions to our State’s most pressing fiscal woes,” added Senator Ruiz. “However, we need to continue to fund programs which are intended to keep the hardest-hit New Jerseyans from falling through the cracks during times of crisis, both national and personal.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.