Bill Was Prompted by News that 11,000 Residents Were Cut Off from Assistance with Little Warning

By a vote of 72-3, the General Assembly on Thursday granted final legislative approval to a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Shavonda Sumter to help ensure food assistance benefits continue when needed for New Jersey residents struggling to find work.

The legislature initially sent the bill to Christie in February and he conditionally vetoed it in April, sending back recommendations that have now been signed off on by both houses and will head back to his desk.

Federal regulations provide that, in general, able-bodied adults without dependents are subject to a time limit for SNAP benefits of three months in a 36-month period unless they work at least 20 hours per week. However, states are permitted to seek a waiver of the three-month time limit if the unemployment rate in the state or an area of the state is greater than 10 percent, or if there is a lack of sufficient jobs to provide employment.  

"The state had applied for, and received, numerous waivers from 2009 to 2015 for counties who were struggling with unemployment rates higher than the statewide average," said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "We likely would have been approved again for those counties that are still struggling, but instead the administration decided not to apply and now 11,000 residents are forced to go without food assistance. This shouldn't happen again."

Prior to the new year, there were 900,000 individuals in New Jersey receiving SNAP benefits, including 60,000 who are able-bodied and childless. Under SNAP guidelines, those 60,000 individuals must work or be enrolled in a training program to qualify for benefits and 11,000 were not meeting that requirement.

Read more
Share

*** Rebuilding NJ's Middle-Class *** Schaer, Vainieri Huttle, Lampitt, Mosquera, Sumter & Wimberly 'Breakfast after the Bell' Bill Heads to Gov's Desk

Measure Would Establish an Incentive Fund for the School Breakfast Program

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Pamela Lampitt, Gabriela Mosquera, Shavonda Sumter and Benjie Wimberly to create an incentive fund to support the Breakfast after the Bell program received final legislative approval Thursday and now heads to the governor's desk.

The sponsors said the purpose of the fund is to provide an incentive for the school districts to move to a school breakfast model that will reach more students. They also note in the bill that low- to middle-income school districts face more fiscal challenges in covering the cost of effective breakfast programs.

The bill is part of efforts by Assembly Democrats to lift people out of poverty and rebuild New Jersey's middle-class.  

"Breakfast after the Bell is one of the most important programs offered to students in our school districts," said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). "A fund will encourage schools to adopt a model that will feed more students in the school year and continue to prepare children for their day of learning."

"An incentive fund will support school breakfast models that will benefit children now and in the future," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "The goal is for more of New Jersey's children to be able to participate in Breakfast after the Bell."

Read more
Share

McKeon, Vainieri Huttle, Caputo, Jasey & Downey Bill to Create Law Enforcement Assisted Addiction Safe Havens Heads to Governor

McKeon, Vainieri Huttle, Caputo, Jasey & Downey Bill to Create Law Enforcement Assisted Addiction Safe Havens Heads to Governor

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John McKeon, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Ralph Caputo, Mila Jasey and Joann Downey that would establish law enforcement assisted addiction and recovery programs throughout the state received final legislative approval from the Senate on Thursday.

The bill (A-3744), which was approved by the Assembly on Monday, now heads to the Governor's desk.

"The nation's heroin and opioid related overdose deaths have increased dramatically in recent years. In New Jersey, alone, the overdose death rate is currently three times the national rate. Clearly more needs to be done," said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). "Similar programs we've studied have shown marked success in cultivating a safe environment where those suffering from addiction feel comfortable coming forward to seek treatment." 

"By increasing access to treatment without fear of arrest or legal action, these law enforcement assisted programs have helped a number of people suffering from substance abuse obtain the treatment they need," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Expanding this program statewide will help reach countless others who desperately need treatment."

Read more
Share

Vainieri Huttle, Lampitt, McKnight, Holley, Mukherji, Zwicker & Wimberly Bill to Create Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Advances

Legislation Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Pamela Lampitt, Angela McKnight, Jamel Holley, Raj Mukherji, Andrew Zwicker and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to create an ombudsman to serve as an advocate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities recently gained approval from the General Assembly.

"Navigating state and federal laws and bureaucracy can be overwhelming for anyone," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee. "For those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it can be downright frustrating, which can deter some individuals and families from accessing much-needed services that may be available to help them. This is counterproductive and in no one's best interest. By creating an ombudsman to help guide them through the state and federal labyrinth of services, we can help individuals become more self-sufficient, thriving members of the community."

The bill (A-3824) would establish the independent Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families in, but not of, the Department of the Treasury. The ombudsman is to be appointed by the governor.

"The loved ones of individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities want them to be able to take advantage of all the programs and services available, but doing the research alone is like a full-time job," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "Having a single office people can contact with questions and concerns will be invaluable." 

"All New Jersey residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve the opportunity to live happy, healthy lives," said McKnight (D-Hudson). "It's so important that these individuals and those who care for them know how to access the resources that can make that possible." 

"The services New Jersey makes available to those with disabilities can only be useful if people know they exist and understand how to access them," said Holley (D-Union). "The ombudsman will be dedicated to knowing the issues that affect individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities thoroughly and making it easier for people to access health care, pursue an education, seek employment and live independently."

"Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities require a strong support system in order to thrive and reach their full potential," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "Establishing this office will fortify that system and open doors for more New Jersey residents."

Read more
Share

Andrzejczak, McKnight & Vainieri Huttle Bill to Ensure Food Assistance Benefits for Residents Struggling to Find Work Gains Assembly Approval

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Bob Andrzejczak, Angela McKnight and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to help ensure that residents struggling to find work can still receive critical food assistance benefits from the state was approved 54-21-3 by the full Assembly on Monday.

The bill (A-3622) would require the state to pledge to ensure the availability of education, training or workfare opportunities that will permit certain participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, colloquially referred to as "food stamps") to remain eligible for benefits beyond the current three-month time limit.

"The state can help these individuals avoid the loss of SNAP benefits, while simultaneously preparing them for long-term employment, by ensuring the availability of qualifying education, training or workfare opportunities," said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). "This important change will ensure that someone struggling to find employment is able to put food on the table for their family."

"We must ensure the proper services are available to those in need," said McKnight (D-Hudson). "Denying much-needed services to those who need it, and then cutting off their benefits because of that denial, is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to stand."

"The status quo is appalling," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "We cannot stand idle while 11,000 people stand to lose their benefits because the state failed to deliver smart services that could save money in the long-run."

Read more
Share

McKeon, Vainieri Huttle, Caputo, Jasey & Downey Bill to Create Law Enforcement Assisted Addiction Safe Havens Advances

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John McKeon, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Ralph Caputo, Mila Jasey and Joann Downey that would establish law enforcement assisted addiction and recovery programs throughout the state cleared the Assembly on Monday, 70-3-4.

"The nation's heroin and opioid related overdose deaths have increased dramatically in recent years. In New Jersey, alone, the overdose death rate is currently three times the national rate. Clearly more needs to be done," said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). "Similar programs we've studied have shown marked success in cultivating a safe environment where those suffering from addiction feel comfortable coming forward to seek treatment." 

"By increasing access to treatment without fear of arrest or legal action, these law enforcement assisted programs have helped a number of people suffering from substance abuse obtain the treatment they need," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Expanding this program statewide will help reach countless others who desperately need treatment."

"It's not easy for those struggling with addiction to come forward and ask for help," said Caputo. "But knowing they can do so without legal repercussions has prompted more people to come forward seeking help. Based on the success we've seen with similar programs this is a smart move."

Read more
Share

Assembly Democratic Legislation to Boost Funding for Women’s Health Care Heads to Governor

Bills Would Expand Medicaid Coverage for Women's Health, Provide $7.5M for Family Planning

A two-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats to boost funding in the state's budget for health care for low- and middle-income women and their children gained approval from the General Assembly and the Senate on Monday. The measures now head to the governor's desk.

The first bill (A-1963), sponsored by Eliana Pintor Marin, Joseph Lagana, Mila Jasey, Raj Mukherji and Joann Downey, would expand Medicaid coverage for women's health care. 

"This legislation represents the fundamental idea that all residents of New Jersey have a right to health care and the freedom to make personal choices about their well-being - regardless of gender or income level," said Pintor Marin (D-Essex). "This legislation will go a long way toward helping more women in New Jersey take charge of their health."

The bill would apply to non-pregnant persons with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The legislation comes after Gov. Chris Christie repeatedly has left funding for women's health care out of the state budget and vetoed Democratic efforts to restore the money. In the past, the funding has helped support life-saving services for women, including mammograms, Pap tests and sexually transmitted infection treatment and prevention. 

Read more
Share

Schaer, Prieto, Lagana, Lampitt, Vainieri Huttle, Eustace, Quijano & Wimberly 'Secure Schools for All Children Act' Heads to Gov's Desk

(TRENTON) - Legislation Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Speaker Vincent Prieto, Joseph Lagana, Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Tim Eustace, Annette Quijano and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to establish a state aid program for security services, equipment or technology to ensure a safe and secure school environment for students attending nonpublic schools received final legislative approval Monday and now heads to the governor's desk. 

"School security has become a paramount concern in recent years, particularly in light of the many tragedies we've witnessed across the country and around the world," said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). "While we've taken many steps to increase security efforts throughout our public schools, much more needs to be done, and we cannot overlook the needs of students in nonpublic schools in the process."

The bill - the Secure Schools for All Children Act (A-2689) - was approved by the Assembly in April.

"All children deserve safe schools," said Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen). "This bill is fiscally and morally responsible and, quite simply, common sense."

"We need to consider all our children when it comes to school security," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "All our children deserve secure schools."

Read more
Share

Vainieri Huttle, Lagana, Eustace & Caride Bill to Provide Better Oversight at Bergen Regional Medical Center Heads to Gov's Desk

Legislation Prompted by Reports of Violence against Patients and Staff; Weak Oversight at New Jersey's Largest Hospital

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Joseph Lagana, Tim Eustace and Marlene Caride to allow Bergen County to create a hospital authority to ensure proper oversight and quality of care at Bergen Regional Medical Center, which has been besieged by allegations of violence against patients and staff, received final legislative approval Monday and now heads to the governor's desk. 

The bill (A-3951) is in response to a media report that revealed hundreds of alleged assaults logged by Bergen County Police and a federal investigation prompted by attacks on eight workers at the Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus. The hospital, which provides long-term care, psychiatric and substance-abuse treatment and acute care, is owned by Bergen County but operated by a private for-profit company. The hospital is the largest hospital in the state with 1,000 beds. 

"The incidents cited are deeply troubling and show a serious lapse in oversight," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Creating an entity solely dedicated to the management of the hospital will help ensure that staff can provide and patients can receive the care they need."

"As the state's largest hospital, Bergen Regional is responsible for the care of a great number of patients who deserve better than what was alleged in that report," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This bill will help curtail the mismanagement that allowed such unsafe occurrences to persist."

Read more
Share

Schaer, Vainieri Huttle, Coughlin & McKnight Bill to Create Real-Time System to Track Available Psych Beds Clears Assembly

(TRENTON) Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Craig Coughlin and Angela McKnight to create a "real-time" system to track the number of psychiatric beds available statewide to treat mental health and substance use disorders was approved Monday by the General Assembly. 

"Last year we hosted a number of roundtable discussions and meetings on issues related to behavioral and mental health care and professionals in the field continuously raised the need for increased information sharing on bed availability across the state,¨ said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). "Therefore, this legislation is designed to help providers and emergency rooms to quickly place patients in need of behavioral health services for the appropriate treatment."  

"The systematic closure of psychiatric hospitals over the last half century has left most states with a serious shortage of inpatient treatment options, forcing many patients to wait endlessly in emergency rooms until a bed opens," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "A real time system to track the availability of existing beds will help ensure that our existing resources are maximized and people are treated more quickly."

Read more
Share