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Ruiz-Vitale Measure To Help Hard-Hit New Jerseyans During Recession Receives Final Legislative Approval

Senators Dana Redd, D-Camden and Gloucester (left) and Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex and Union, listens to testimony at the Senate Budget Committee meeting on Governor Corzine's toll road plan.

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 approved by the Senate today by a vote of 35-0, receiving final legislative approval.

“As the national economic meltdown continues to drive down stock prices and increase the volatility in the banking and loan industries, it can be very easy to lose sight of the human impact of the crisis,” said Senator Ruiz, D-Essex and Union, and a member of the Budget Committee. “However, the bad state of the economy has very real consequences for families struggling to make ends meet. These are people who are at the lowest ends of the economic spectrum and may face foreclosure, extreme poverty and homelessness as the cost of living climbs higher and higher – and they need our help.”

“We need to recognize, even in the worst economic times, that there are some things that are just too important to ignore,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and a member of the Budget panel as well. “We cannot ignore families who cannot afford to eat, or heat their homes, or pay for essential legal services to help keep their homes. This bill is about doing what’s morally right, even while we face some substantially difficult economic decisions in the very near future.”

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 cannot abandon those families who rely on safety net programs to get by, and as the demand for assistance increases, we need to increase support for these programs,” said Senator Ruiz. “As the economy gets worse and worse, our State’s limited resources for food banks, energy assistance and legal aid are stretched thin. We need to inject some much-needed funds into these programs to help hard-hit families get through the worst of the economic collapse.”

“The current economic crisis has definitely exacerbated the need for the safety net for New Jerseyans in greatest need,” said Senator Vitale. “This bill taps existing programs to expand the safety net, and ensures that people get the help they need in a time of nearly unprecedented economic pain. This legislation sends a message that New Jersey does not ignore the needs of its most vulnerable residents in times of crisis.”

“While Senator Vitale and I continue to support initiatives to protect businesses and ensure that jobs stay in New Jersey, helping families on the brink of economic collapse needs to be a top priority,” added Senator Ruiz. “This bill is about ensuring that New Jerseyans struggling to make a living do not slip through the cracks at the time of their greatest need.”

The bill now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.

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