Good morning, Acting Commissioner and DHS team. Thank you for this opportunity to provide my testimony on the FY2023 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 has led the way in providing security for New Jersey residents throughout the pandemic. The policies passed, expansions of coverage and outreach, and programs initiated have helped to increase food security, better protect maternal health, help families maintain access to child care, and improve home- and community-based services, just to name a few. Today, I am here to highlight three priorities for the department to consider when building on these advancements.
Cover All Kids Implementation
With the passage of the Cover All Kids legislation, the opportunity for achieving universal health coverage for New Jersey children is finally within reach. The Department’s support of this initiative has been key to its success. NJPP urges DHS to continue this commitment by investing at least $20 million in the expansion of coverage to undocumented children as planned for July 2022 and for the broader expansion of coverage options through NJ FamilyCare Advantage. Key to this process will be ensuring that all newly eligible children receive the same benefits at the same cost as those children who are eligible now, as well as finding new methods of outreach to ensure all families have access to information through reliable, trusted sources. A $20 million investment should provide sufficient support for estimated first-year enrollment for undocumented children, as well as provide an increase in funding for outreach for these harder-to-reach populations.
Beyond health insurance, providing support to escape deep poverty is key to children’s and family health. NJPP encourages the Department to consider how to improve the TANF program to better provide this support and move TANF beyond its racist history. By investing $27 million, the Department can help to gradually increase the monthly grant amount to at least 50 percent of the federal poverty level, reduce work hour requirements to better meet families’ realities, eliminate barriers for documented immigrants, and ensure that children and parents are lifted out of deep poverty.
NJDHS has been at the forefront of ensuring support for the child care system during the public health emergency, with substantial financial support for child care providers and families. NJPP urges the department to continue or expand some of these successful program changes, including paying child care subsidy providers by enrollment, not by attendance. Child care providers need stability in subsidy payments, and a long-term solution to ensure pay-by-enrollment is critical to the health of the child care system.
The pandemic has highlighted long-standing issues in the child care system, including low staff salaries, lack of infant-toddler care access, and insufficient data systems. Each of these areas will require creative solutions and judicious usage of federal and state funds to support staff hiring and retention, encourage the development of infant-toddler care supply in “child care deserts” and build more robust DHS data infrastructure.
Food Security, Home- and Community-Based Services, Harm Reduction, and More
With the aforementioned priorities, as well as continued long-term investments and improvements in SNAP, Home- and Community-Based Services, harm reduction, and support for New Jersey’s immigrant communities, the Department can ensure that the Garden State continues to be a place where all families can live their best lives.