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TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner and Senator Fred H. Madden, Jr. that would expand employment options for low-income individuals seeking to become financially independent by establishing a self-employment training program was approved today by the Senate Economic Growth Committee.

The bill, S-556, would provide assistance for low-income individuals by establishing a training program and expanding employment options to include those who own or are starting a microenterprise business. A microenterprise business is a small business of less than five employees, requiring less than $35,000 in startup capital. The legislation would also expand the definition of work activity requirements for recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The requirements of the program would include microenterprise training, self-employment or both. Under the bill, training for self-employment, information on these training opportunities and successful past participation would be included as part of the counseling requirements at One Stop Career Centers, where individuals seek employment opportunities.

“Many residents living with low income struggle every day to support themselves and their families,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “This program aims to address this issue by providing individuals who are looking for alternative employment options with the opportunity to start their own business and become their own boss. The measure will undoubtedly help low-income individuals get back on their feet so that they can become self-sufficient and independent workers who can contribute to their communities.”

The legislation would also require that the Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs provide $500,000 of the Community Development Block Grant each year to a nonprofit community organization that will administer the money as grants and loans to low-income individuals who own or are starting a microenterprise. When reviewing, the Commissioner would be required to consider an organization’s experience in administrating loans and grants as well as development and training activities. The Commissioner would also review whether an organization has the ability to meet the Community Development Block Grant program’s objectives regarding microenterprise lending and the capacity to manage block grant funds. Additionally, the Commissioner would be required to consider if an organization is capable of serving as an educational development resource for loan and grant recipients.

“Because a wide variety of circumstances, low-income individuals have found it difficult to become financially stable without a necessary support system in place,” said Senator Madden (D-Camden/Gloucester). “By providing a self-employment program, those looking to work can have the support necessary to help them become successful entrepreneurs. Ultimately, this financial assistance and training program is a first step to decreasing poverty in our state and increasing economic opportunities in our towns and cities.”

Microenterprise development programs provide low-income entrepreneurs with the skills and capital needed to start or improve a small business and help them achieve economic self-sufficiency, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Common microenterprise industries include: jewelry making, arts and crafts, clothing and textiles, furniture repair, computer technology, day care, recycling, taxi service, street vending, in-home catering and food preparation, nail care, and hair braiding. The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) reported that microenterprises account for 88 percent of the nation’s businesses and are responsible for creating an average of 900,000 new jobs annually.

The bill was approved by a vote of 3-0. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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