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Vitale-Rice Legislation to Repeal Family Caps Under Work First New Jersey Program Advances

Senator Rice

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Health Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale and Senator Ronald L. Rice that would repeal the family cap in the Work First New Jersey (WFNJ) program was approved today by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

The bill, S-490, would repeal parts of the “Work First New Jersey Act” which prohibit 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 for a newborn 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 exceptions for families with a working parent and for children born to minors. 

“Our safety net programs are intended to provide assistance to those who need it,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex).  “For families living in poverty, cost increases have created more hardship. We cannot ignore these needs and those of the children born into these low-income families.”

“The family cap in place today leaves many children and families vulnerable without the additional assistance they may need as their families grow,” said Senator Rice (D-Essex). “This is an effort to reduce the high child poverty rates in New Jersey and to end the cycle that leaves low-income women and their children trapped in poverty.”

New Jersey Policy Perspective reported 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. 

The bill cleared the Senate committee by a vote of 5-0-3 and it now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.