Good afternoon Chairman Sarlo and members of the Committee. Thank you for this opportunity to provide my testimony on the proposed extension of Emergency Assistance eligibility. 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 strongly supports the eligibility extension proposed in S3960, which continues an exemption from the 12-month lifetime limit of Emergency Assistance — which, notably, is only ⅕ of the lifetime limit for other Work First New Jersey assistance — for residents who are disproportionately harmed by economic and health crises. This includes WFNJ participants and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries who have disabilities, who are full-time caretakers of dependents with disabilities, who are over 60 years old, who chronically face barriers to employment.
When the original bill passed in 2018, OLS estimated that thousands of families each year would benefit from the relief that this exemption provides. This means that, without this exemption, thousands of New Jerseyans who are most in need and living in the most devastating conditions would face homelessness; only arbitrarily set time limits would prevent them from receiving help, despite regular reviews of their need for the assistance.
The 2018 law was estimated to cost $5 million per year to help these families remain in their homes as they navigate crises. As this exemption from arbitrary cutoffs is limited to particular groups and the average grant amount in Emergency Assistance overall (across all participants, not just those with this exemption) only makes up approximately one month’s worth of rent at a time, the cost remains a relatively small investment for the state — but one with important, life-changing results.
The state should never let itself slip backward in its support for families, and the law’s sunsetting demands urgent action. We have not met the goals laid out when this exemption was first introduced — we continue to see an affordable housing crisis and devastating homelessness — and therefore, it does not make sense to let this exemption sunset and punish the participants who rely on this assistance. We should not force people with disabilities, people with dependents who have disabilities, the elderly, and other families faced with crisis out of their homes and onto the street.
While the Work First New Jersey programs need significant reform to avoid these urgent legislative demands in the future, this bridge remains critical for maintaining progress for families until those larger changes are made.
We hope that the committee will advance the extension of these crucial services today. Thank you for your time.