(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Elizabeth Maher Muoio, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Raj Mukherji, Sheila Oliver and Reed Gusciora to ensure that some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents receive the assistance they need under the Work First New Jersey program received final legislative approval Monday and now heads to the governor’s desk.
The bill (A-33) 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.
Identical legislation was vetoed last year by Gov. Christie, but Assembly Democrats remain committed to it.
“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.”
“Raising children is expensive. Denying families additional assistance only aggravates the circumstances that made them eligible for these benefits in the first place,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “If we want to help poor families climb out of poverty, we cannot set up roadblocks. This cap is counterproductive and only aggravates the financial struggles faced by these families.”
“It is almost cruel to deny poor families this adjustment knowing that their expenses will increase dramatically with the arrival of another child,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “Removing the cap will help ensure that families in need will receive assistance based on their actual needs, which we know will not ease or remain stagnant when there’s another child to take care of.”
“The purpose of this program is to assist families with children struggling to make ends meet. Having a family cap that denies families additional benefits when a new child is born contradicts this mission,” said Gusciora (Mercer/Hunterdon). “If the genuine goal of the program is to help low income families have a better standard of living, then the cap should be removed.”
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 22-14 by the Senate on June 26, and 51-20-3 by the Assembly on June 22.