Good afternoon Chairman Freiman and members of the Committee. Thank you for this opportunity to provide my testimony on the proposed Work First New Jersey (WFNJ) reform. My name is Dr. Brittany Holom-Trundy, and I am a senior policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). NJPP is a non-partisan, non-profit research institution that focuses on policies that can improve the lives of low- and middle-income people, strengthen our state’s economy, and enhance the quality of life in New Jersey.
NJPP supports the changes to initial maximum allowable income eligibility levels proposed in A2367. We believe this is a good step toward a WFNJ that more effectively tackles childhood poverty, helps support low-income families, and builds a stronger future for the state. We also strongly support combining this reform with a comprehensive WFNJ package to move the program away from its racist history and toward a future in which it truly works for Garden State families.
As NJPP’s research has shown, WFNJ serves as a critical bridge to stability for parents and children living in poverty.[i] This is particularly true for Black and Hispanic/Latinx families, who are overrepresented amongst low-income communities. Year-over-year changes reported throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have continued to emphasize how essential this lifeline is, especially for single-parent families. The experiences of the past two years have only increased the urgency of improving WFNJ to meet today’s economic and social realities.
WFNJ should not only serve as many families as possible, but also fully support participating families. Yet the racist history of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program means that WFNJ continues to fall short in providing sufficient support to families seeking to escape the cycle of poverty. With this in mind, we hope that Assembly members will consider, in addition to the proposed reform in A2367, other aspects of comprehensive Work First New Jersey reform, including:
- Increasing the monthly grant (benefit) amount to at least 50% FPL and with automatic cost of living adjustments
- Eliminating the barriers to participation for individuals taking college classes to receive support through General Assistance
- Improving the off-ramp for families so that the program does not have such severe cliffs, which immediately put families back in difficult positions
- Aligning asset rules with other social safety net programs
- Modifying sanction rules to protect children when parents are struggling
- Adjusting program language to eliminate bias
- Adjusting time limits to account for the unprecedented crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic
- Codifying changes introduced through previous budget legislation that allowed for greater support through services such as enhanced case management and greater child support pass-through
We hope that the committee will advance this reform today and move to modernize Work First New Jersey with a comprehensive package of reforms. Now more than ever New Jersey’s parents and children need our state leaders’ solid commitments to their well-being and a brighter future.
Thank you for your time.
[i] New Jersey Policy Perspective, Promoting Equal Opportunities for Children Living in Poverty, 2020, https://www.njpp.org/publications/report/promoting-equal-opportunities-for-children-living-in-poverty/