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Senator Vitale

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 received final legislative approval today.

The bill, S-1854, 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 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.

“Our safety net programs are intended to indiscriminately provide assistance to those who need it,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex).  “As a family grows, especially one already living in poverty and relying on assistance, its needs grow. We cannot ignore these needs and those of the children born into these low-income families.”

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.

“The family cap in place today leaves many children and families vulnerable without the additional assistance they may need as they 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.”

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 by a vote of 25-14 and the Assembly by a vote of 51-25-1. It now heads to the Governor for consideration.

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