Sweeney-Vitale Bill To Aid the Homeless Gains Committee Approval

Legislation Would Replace Temporary Programs For Chronically Ill & Disabled

Trenton – Legislation authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Joe Vitale that would respond to a crisis situation that threatens some of the neediest residents of New Jersey with homelessness was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today. The bill, S-866, would create a permanent housing assistance program to help the disabled, chronically ill and long-term unemployed who are confronted with the abrupt termination of temporary programs.

“There are no good reasons and no acceptable excuses for not doing what we can to help those who are forced to overcome obstacles in their lives that are thrust upon them,” said Senator Sweeney. “Homelessness is a preventable and curable circumstance that we have the ability to address. This is emergency assistance for those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. This plan will make a real difference in their lives.”

The state’s Housing Assistance and Housing Hardship Extension programs, which provide assistance to people who have exhausted welfare-based emergency housing assistance and those who are disabled and awaiting social security insurance benefits, expired in July 2016 with no real replacement in place.

“Because the programs in place were temporary, the assistance it offered didn’t provide the security and certainty for people already facing insecure and uncertain living conditions,” said Senator Vitale. “Some individuals have already been left homeless and countless others are struggling to secure housing aid. But they all deserve the stability of a roof over their head.”

The legislation will replace the three-year “pilot” programs with a permanent emergency assistance plan. The bill would make the funding permanent for individuals who are very low income, receive general assistance benefits, are Social Security recipients, are in imminent danger of homelessness, disabled or those who care for a disabled dependent, or are over 60 years of age or chronically unemployed.

Prior to July 2015, those receiving benefits through the emergency assistance program were granted additional rental assistance beyond the 12 months through pilot programs implemented by the Department of Human Services. These temporary, three-year pilot programs put current participants in limbo on whether their benefits will continue.

The bureaucratic response by state officials created a patchwork of inconsistent and uncertain plans to help those facing homelessness, Senator Sweeney said.

The pilot programs were funded by a combination of state and federal dollars provided to the counties and administered on the county level by County Boards of Social Services and various non-profit organizations.  According to the department, the total cost equaled $15.5 million in 2016. At the conclusion of the pilot programs, there were approximately 760 Temporary Assistance for Needy Family clients, 1,770 General Assistance clients and 488 SSI clients.

At least 3,000 people were imperiled by the cutoff and transition, according to official accounts, but the actual number could be much higher.

The bill was approved by the committee with a 13-0 vote.  It next moves to the full Senate for further consideration.