Trenton –Senate President Steve Sweeney today sharply criticized the Governor’s veto of his legislation extending lifetime emergency assistance benefits for the homeless.
“This is a cold act on the coldest day of the year,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “Days like this should be a reminder that there are homeless veterans suffering from PTSD, abused mothers with young children, recovering drug addicts and alcoholics who find themselves out on the street and need our help.
“The extension of emergency aid eligibility could provide critical help for those who are experiencing hard times that make it all but impossible for them to meet basic needs, including food and shelter,” he said. “There are times when people need help in order to survive or to help themselves. It could be a lifeline for those in real need.”
The Sweeney bill, S-1965, would overturn the current lifetime cap on Emergency Assistance (EA) benefits for the homeless to allow the State to provide assistance for up to 18 months within any seven-year period. Emergency Assistance provides tenant-based and project-based rental assistance grants to prevent individuals from becoming homeless. These programs help pay for living necessities such as rent or utility security deposits, home heating fuel or past due rents and mortgages, or utility debts.
The bill was approved 35-0 by the Senate and 70-9 by the Assembly.
Senator Sweeney noted that social service advocates argue that the bill is needed because the most vulnerable populations – those suffering from abuse, addiction, Post-Traumatic Stress Order, mental illness or other disabilities, and the chronically unemployed – are likely to go through cycles of homelessness over the years, no matter how hard they struggle to afford the basic necessities.
Emergency assistance is generally limited to 12 months, with additional assistance for up to six months in limited cases of extreme hardship. Some people who receive EA benefits later pay the state back for those benefits. The Sweeney bill would soften the lifetime cap by allowing those facing homelessness to receive assistance for up to 18 months during any seven-year period.
“An absolute lifetime limit on Emergency Assistance benefits is needlessly harsh. The number of people who will need this extension is not large and we can afford to help them,” said Senator Sweeney. “That’s the most important mission of government – to help those who cannot help themselves.”