Vitale Bill To Protect Family Care Income Standards Advances In Committee

Measure Would Repeal Unfair Department Rules on “Unearned” Income

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would repeal unfair new income rules which would deny individuals access to the New Jersey FamilyCare program, a safety net program which provides health care access for uninsured New Jerseyans, was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today by a vote of 7-0, with one abstention.

“NJ FamilyCare represents a necessary safety net to help uninsured children and in some cases, their uninsured parents, access quality health care services,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and co-chair of the Senate health panel. “At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet, the program has become a vital access point to primary care for many who might otherwise let health care slip by the wayside in favor of more immediate needs. By restricting access to this program, we’re putting people in jeopardy, and sending a message that access to quality health care isn’t a priority for the State of New Jersey.”

The bill, S-2750, would roll back a new rule implemented by the State Department of Human Services (DHS) on March 1, 2010 which limited the eligibility of parents and caretakers to be covered by the NJ FamilyCare program. Under the new DHS rules, parents or caretakers would no longer qualify for health coverage under NJ FamilyCare if their “unearned” income – typically identified as unemployment insurance, child support payments, and other government benefits, including social security death or disability benefits – exceeds 30% of the federal poverty level, or $6,705 a year for a family of four, even if their gross family income otherwise falls below the income threshold for the program.

Under new income eligibility rules adopted by the Department last year, parents/guardians would still be covered by FamilyCare if they were already enrolled in the program and their income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $44,700 a year for a family of four. New enrollees would have to earn less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or $29,726 a year for a family of four, to be eligible for parent/guardian coverage under FamilyCare. Senator Vitale’s bill would not change the existing income eligibility standards, but would remove the “unearned” income calculation, ensuring that all income, for the purposes of FamilyCare eligibility, is treated equally.

Senator Vitale’s bill would also require DHS to re-enroll any parent or caretaker who was disenrolled from the program as a result of the “unearned” income calculation.

Senator Vitale argued that the additional calculation requirement for “unearned” income – in addition to the reduced income eligibility imposed on FamilyCare enrollees last year – amounted to an unfair burden on economically-disadvantaged families who may have fallen on hard times.

“The new ‘unearned’ income calculations imposed by DHS regulations unfairly impose an additional hurdle for families which may be dealing with a personal crisis or some other economic hardship,” said Senator Vitale. “It’s unfair to say that a widow can’t qualify for FamilyCare coverage because she receives a social security death benefit, or that a single mother can’t qualify because she just lost her job and is on unemployment. This bill would repeal harsh and unfair regulations which seem designed only to penalize people who depend on government assistance during their time of need.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration, before going to the full Senate for review.