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Vitale & Cruz-Perez Bills to Repeal Family Caps Under Work First New Jersey Program and Increase Amount of Benefits Clears Senate

Two bills sponsored by Senate Health Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale and Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez that would repeal the family cap and increase the amount of benefits under the Work First New Jersey program aimed to help low-income families, were approved today by the full Senate.

“In many cases, our state assistance programs are the only financial relief that many economically disadvantaged families can count on and limiting their benefits even as the household has grown is simply irresponsible. Our duty as lawmakers is to provide our low-income families with the help they need, regardless of the number of members in a home, so they can get ahead,” said Senator Vitale.

The first bill, S-3315, would increase the amount of cash assistance for families participating in the Work First New Jersey Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (WFNJ/TANF). The amount would be $466 a month in Fiscal Year 2018, $509 in 2019, and $551 in 2020. For FY2021 and each year thereafter, the maximum benefit would be adjusted annually according to the cost of living adjustment applied under the federal Social Security program.

The WFNJ/TANF program provides cash and other assistance to low-income families with dependent children to alleviate economic hardships and to be able to provide families with the assistance they need to enable them with basic needs.

The second bill, S-3316, would repeal the family cap in the Work First New Jersey (WFNJ/TANF) program which prohibits a household from gaining additional cash assistance benefits as a result of the birth of a child. Currently, the law prevents an increase in the amount of a cash assistance grant if a child is born unless the child is born 10 months after applying for benefits or the birth is a result of rape or incest. The law also has certain exceptions for families with a working parent and for children born to minors.  This bill would eliminate the family cap in order to extend assistance to more families in need.

“The current law is not in keeping with the values we hold dear in this country. The change to the legislation to include a growing family is both humane and the right thing to do,” said Senator Cruz-Perez (D-Camden). “We cannot continue to punish children for actions outside of their control.”

New Jersey Policy Perspective reported recently that the state has seen an alarming increase of children living in poverty since the Great Recession. It further reports that since the family cap’s implementation in 1992, over 20,000 children in New Jersey have been denied assistance, which in turn creates enormous stress and greater hardship for these families.

According to the Welfare Rules Database from the Urban Institute, and NCSL legislative summaries, at least 19 states currently have a family cap policy and an additional two states have a flat cash assistance grant regardless of family size.

Both bills were approved by the full Senate. S-3315 was approved with a vote of 26-14 and S-3316 with a vote of 22-14. It now heads to the Governor for consideration.