lawsuit possible over year-stay limit for state-funded NJ

Tom Boland (
Wed, 2 Sep 1998 13:24:11 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  Bergen Record -- August 31, 1998


     The Associated Press

TRENTON -- Under New Jersey welfare reforms enacted last
year, welfare recipients can stay in state-subsidized shelters for
only 12 months, but a 1959 law has towns worried that they'll
end up footing the bill after that.

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities, which represents
the state's 566 towns, says the nearly 40-year-old state law says
municipalities have a responsibility to provide "support and
relief" for their poor.

Under Governor Whitman's "Work First New Jersey" program,
recipients of emergency housing assistance can stay in shelters
for only 12 months of their life.

The clock started ticking July 1, 1997. But the state granted
one-time, three-month extensions to most of the 1,500 single
people -- and to all of the 120 families -- who reached their
12-month cutoff in July.

Nervously eyeing the new Oct. 1 deadline, the league recently
mailed a letter to state lawmakers urging them to act on a bill,
S-1213/A-2229, that would push the deadline to July 1, 1999.

"The three-month extension is a Band-Aid approach," said Helen
Yeldell, legislative analyst for the league. "This would buy at
least 12 months to find some way to help indigents."

Yeldell said Legal Services of New Jersey, which represents poor
people, has told the league it is prepared to file a lawsuit on behalf
of homeless people.

Legal Services President De Miller said they don't have any
clients who have been forced out of state housing and then turned
away by their municipality.

"If we had a client in that situation, we would seek to enforce
what appears to be their rights under the [1959] law," Miller said.

Jacqueline Tencza, a spokeswoman for the state Department of
Human Services, said state law will grant three-month "hardship
extensions" to 10 percent of the single and childless people faced
with homelessness come October. Tencza said there is money in
the state budget to provide for 387 such extensions.

Homeless families also will be eligible for a second three-month
extension. People with health problems, such as AIDS, and
disabilities also qualify for extensions.

"The only people who will be affected by the October deadline are
people who are able to work," Tencza said. "And our economy is
very strong."

Tencza said many people receiving emergency assistance are
living in motels.

"There seems to be a misunderstanding that keeping people in a
temporary emergency housing situation is a good solution,"
Tencza said. "It's not. It keeps people living in a motel or shelter
rather than an apartment."

Sen. Robert W. Singer, R-Ocean, the Senate bill's prime
sponsor, said he thinks Whitman will support extending the state
funding for housing assistance until July 1999.

"It's unfair to put the burden on local taxpayers," Singer said.
"Everyone realizes it's the right thing to do."


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