Muoio & Vainieri Huttle Bill to Enhance Benefits Under Work First NJ Program Advances

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Elizabeth Maher Muoio and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to ensure that some of New Jersey's most vulnerable residents receive the assistance they need under the Work First New Jersey program was released Thursday by an Assembly panel.

The bill (A-3410) would repeal the section of the "Work First New Jersey Act" that currently prohibits a household from gaining additional cash assistance benefits as a result of the birth of a child. Such policies that prevent an increase in welfare benefits as a result of the birth of a child are commonly known as "family caps." 

"If there was ever a situation that would precipitate the need for greater assistance under this program, it's the birth of a child and the enormous cost that comes along with it," said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). "This cap harms our most vulnerable citizens - children born into poverty who must suffer the effects of even deeper poverty because their families must struggle to do more with less."

"The Work First program is designed to assist some of New Jersey's most needy families," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Denying the adjustment of their assistance because of the birth of a child ignores reality and may mean the difference between whether this family can get by or is forced to descend further into poverty."

The Work First New Jersey - Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program provides cash and other assistance to low income families with dependent children. The amount of monthly cash assistance provided to a household by the program is based on the household's size. 

However, current law prevents the amount of the grant from increasing as the result of the birth of a child, unless the child is born fewer than 10 months after applying for benefits or the birth of the child is a result of rape or incest. Certain limited exceptions to the family cap are provided for families with a working parent and for children born to minors.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Budget Committee and is expected to go before the full Assembly on Monday, June 27.