Good afternoon Chairman Vitale and members of the Committee. Thank you for this opportunity to provide my testimony on the proposed Work First New Jersey (WFNJ) reforms. 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 changes proposed in S1642. We believe that the comprehensive reforms proposed in this bill are a good step toward a WFNJ that more effectively tackles childhood poverty, helps support low-income families, and builds a stronger, more equitable future for the state.
New Jerseyans need these changes now, as the program’s structure falls short of effectively addressing poverty. As of February 2022, fewer than 10,000 — only 9,976 — families were participating in TANF. This means that TANF is supporting fewer than one in six New Jersey families in poverty. And this number has only fallen over the past two and a half decades since the last major reform at the federal level.
WFNJ falls short not only in the number of residents it serves, but in how it serves them. Administrative barriers arbitrarily limit assistance, and even those who receive that assistance do not get enough to make ends meet. Monthly cash benefits in the program remain at less than ⅓ of the Federal Poverty Level, meaning that cash assistance now has only a quarter of the strength relative to federal poverty levels than the cash assistance that was provided in the 1970s. Benefit cliffs and inadequate off-ramps for the program leave families hanging, facing the reality that working full time in a minimum wage job in New Jersey today will still leave a parent with two children below the federal poverty level…And this does not even take into account that the federal poverty level is tens of thousands of dollars below estimates of what it takes to pay monthly food, utility, housing, and other necessary bills in New Jersey. All of these problematic limitations of the program leave families with an inability to save, to prepare for unexpected expenses, and to ultimately break free from the cycle of poverty.
This bill advances comprehensive reforms to address many of these shortcomings. By increasing the monthly grant (benefit) amount to at least 50% FPL with automatic cost of living adjustments, improving off-ramps, modifying work requirements to better meet realities for working parents, and making other important changes to rules that bring the program into the 21st century, we can make the WFNJ program truly work for New Jerseyans.
We hope that the committee will advance these reforms today. Now more than ever New Jersey’s parents and children need commitments from our state leaders to support their well-being and a brighter future.
Thank you for your time.