Assembly Human Services Committee Chair Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) released the following statement Wednesday after her committee concluded the first of four Assembly hearings to help find solutions to poverty and grow New Jersey's middle class:
"The stories and statistics we heard today are truly alarming. What has become apparent is that we can't rely solely on a growing economy to solve the issue of poverty in this state. Even as our economy gradually rebounds, the poverty rate in New Jersey continues to grow and the income disparity widens. As one of the wealthiest states in the nation, this is totally unacceptable.
"We learned that the erosion of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits is one of the main reasons we have nearly a million children living in poverty now.
"We also learned that the emergency housing assistance program is an essential safety net, but that the pilot program to provide emergency housing for the disabled expired last year, leaving those who were not enrolled at the time with few other options.
"We also learned that banning people convicted of certain drug offenses from eligibility for general assistance is another serious concern because many of these people are not violent drug offenders, but ordinary people suffering from addiction and mental illness who are being shut off from much-needed help.
"Essentially, what we learned today is that when a recession hits, people living in poverty are the first to be impacted and the last to recover.
"This means we need to do more as a state.
"We received a number of policy suggestions today worth pursuing, including one to require the food restaurants and stores discard to remain in state, rather than being shipped to out of state contractors, in order to help address food shortages for New Jersey families.
"We also need to pursue additional federal funding to help address our social service needs. We need to find ways to improve efficiency so that we can maximize services for those who need it most. Moreover, we must maintain compassion for those struggling to overcome the confines of poverty, many of whom are our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones.
"I look forward to working with my colleagues in the coming weeks to find tangible solutions to these issues," said Vainieri Huttle.