Good afternoon, Commissioner and DHS team. Thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony on the FY 2025 budget for the Department of Human Services. 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.
The Department of Human Services provides crucial support for individuals and families in the face of rising costs and instability. The past year’s successes, including the expansion of All Kids health coverage, have served as essential bridges for families facing ever-changing economic, health, and political landscapes. Building on the strong foundations that these policies have provided will help to eliminate the continuing daily uncertainty that many working families, immigrants, and low-income residents still face.
In order to do this, here are four priorities for the Department to consider for next fiscal year.
1. All Kids Coverage: Building the Final Bridges
We have seen the success of All Kids in enrolling already-eligible and newly-eligible children with the expansion this past January. The Department’s support of this initiative has been key to its success thus far, and continued prioritization of full implementation remains the only path toward universal coverage.
NJPP urges DHS to continue its commitment to this effort by ensuring that the expansion remains fully funded in FY 2025 and that the final bridges for uninsured children who are not income-eligible for NJ FamilyCare (NJFC) are built. This means making sure that state funds continue to cover the approximately 35,000 newly eligible, enrolled children (approximately $105 million), as well as providing funding to open buy-in options at least for the estimated 2,000 children who are not income-eligible for NJFC and yet do not qualify for GetCovered NJ coverage due to immigration status.
2. Reforming Work First New Jersey (WFNJ) to Work for Families
Low-income residents consistently face daily economic insecurity, and yet the state’s main program helping to lift families out of deep poverty remains outdated and subject to the punitive stereotypes of 1990s welfare reform. NJPP encourages the Department to consider how to improve the WFNJ program and make it truly work for the state’s poorest families.
By investing at least $28 million, the Department can begin the process of gradually increasing the monthly grant amount to at least 50 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) over the next three years. With $95 million, this grant increase to 50 percent FPL could be achieved in the first year, setting participants on better supported paths for the future immediately. Maintaining current Emergency Assistance funding is also crucial. Finally, additional funds can help to improve off-ramps, reduce work hour requirements to better meet families’ realities, eliminate barriers for immigrants, and ensure that children and parents are lifted out of deep poverty.
3. Supporting Child Care as an Essential Building Block for Families’ Futures
NJPP urges the Department to continue or expand successful program changes from the past few years and to increase state support to fill any gaps left by the loss of federal funding. Child care providers need stability in subsidy payments, and a long-term solution to ensure pay-by-enrollment, rather than by attendance, is critical to the health of the system. Low staff salaries and insufficient data systems also require continued attention and creative solutions.
4. Welcoming New Jersey’s Newest Residents
New Jersey’s diverse immigrant communities deserve to be welcomed to the Garden State with the same enthusiasm and empathy for their families’ needs as do all New Jersey residents. To do this, the Department should ensure that funding is available to codify the Office of New Americans and to support the continuation of services like the Deportation Detention Defense Initiative, legal services for unaccompanied minors, and fee waivers and assistance for refugees and asylum seekers.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration.