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Ruiz-Vitale Measure To Help Hard-Hit New Jerseyans During Economic Crisis Signed Into Law

Senator M. Theresa Ruiz listens to testimony during the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing.

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Teresa Ruiz and Joseph F. Vitale which would provide financial assistance to individuals and families as part of the “New Jersey Economic Assistance and Recovery Plan” was signed into law today by Governor Corzine.

“As New Jersey State Government comes to terms with the reality of a national economic recession, we have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable State residents from falling through the cracks,” said Senator Ruiz, D-Essex and Union, and a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. “This bill represents the heart and soul of what government must be about – offering a helping hand to those in crisis, and giving people the resources and support they need to weather the current economic storm. Through this legislation, we will expand safety net programs for people at the lowest end of the economic spectrum, for whom access to food pantries and heating assistance means the difference between life and death.”

“This bill continues New Jersey’s proud tradition of standing up for the safety and well-being of our people,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and a member of the Senate Budget panel. “These aren’t folks who benefited from the $700 billion federal bail-out of Wall Street earlier this year, and they won’t benefit from the proposed bailout of the American auto industry which is being finalized by Congress as we speak. These are people who are struggling to put food on the table, to afford paying their home heating bills, and who are in jeopardy of losing their homes to foreclosure. They desperately need our help, and with today’s bill signing, they’ll get our help.”

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.

“Safety net programs for the economically-disadvantaged are stretched to the absolute limit, and we must increase funding to meet the higher demand for help,” said Senator Ruiz. “Throughout the current economic crisis, we’ve talked about increasing government investment in the transportation infrastructure, or capital improvements, or job growth and the business community. This bill is a direct investment in New Jersey’s people, and I’d like to publicly thank Governor Corzine and my fellow legislators for their commitment to helping those in greatest need during these tough economic times.”

“This bill sends the message that, no matter what, we will not abandon our most vulnerable citizens in their time of greatest need,” said Senator Vitale. “Senator Ruiz and I support the many economic stimulus initiatives which are designed to spur the creation of new jobs, introduce stability in the marketplace, and make New Jersey a friendlier place for the business community. However, nothing is more important than ensuring that people have access to good food and a warm home during the tough times ahead and I thank the Governor and my legislative colleagues for recognizing that.”

The bill was approved by the Senate and General Assembly last month.

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