NJ bill would extend welfare housing 12-month lifetime limit FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 28 Sep 1998 02:41:31 -0400


http://www.bergen.com:80/region/extendow199809254.htm
FWD  Bergen [NJ] Record  Friday, September 25, 1998


          SENATE MOVING WELFARE HOUSING BENEFITS BILL

          By OVETTA WIGGINS, Trenton Bureau


Concerned about the hundreds of welfare recipients who
soon could become homeless as a result of the state's
new welfare reform law, a Senate committee approved a
bill Thursday that would extend housing benefits for
most recipients until June.

Under Work First New Jersey, welfare recipients were
given a 12-month lifetime limit on emergency housing
assistance. Before the welfare reforms were enacted, the
state provided unlimited emergency housing assistance to
welfare recipients facing eviction or homelessness.

The welfare reform law allows the state to offer
extensions to 10 percent of its caseload, which it
considers to have a "hardship." In addition, the state
Department of Human Services has created a new pilot
program that will extend emergency assistance for some
recipients until April.

But with an estimated 637 people deemed employable by
the state and expected to lose their benefits in November,
some lawmakers and advocates say the current law and
new program don't go far enough.

"The goal of the welfare reform legislation was not to
throw people off welfare and into the streets," said Sen.
Robert W. Singer, R-Ocean, a bill sponsor. "The intent
was . . . to put people in more appropriate programs as
quickly as possible so they could become prepared to
work."

Singer said it is the Legislature's "moral obligation" to
make the changes to Work First New Jersey.

The Senate Senior Citizens, Veterans Affairs, and
Human Services committee passed the measure 3-0, with
one abstention. The bill, which could cost the state an
estimated $5 million, now heads to the Senate Budget
and Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Norman M. Robertson, R-Clifton, refrained from
the vote on Thursday. He said he is concerned about
extending the benefit to people who are able to work.

"We want to develop a safety net and not a loophole," he
said.

The Whitman administration opposes the measure,
saying it is premature to make changes to the welfare
reform law. David Heins, acting director of the state
Division of Family Development, said one of the main
tenets of Work First New Jersey is to require able-bodied
adults to work and move off public assistance. "We must
continue to provide temporary assistance and support
services but also insist that all able-bodied individuals
make an effort to achieve self-sufficiency," he said. "That
message is critical."

But the sponsors of the legislation say the problem is not
solely about finding work, but finding a position that will
support affordable housing.

The measure, which requires the recipient to meet a few
conditions, is supported by the New Jersey League of
Municipalities, the National Organization for Women,
and the New Jersey Catholic Conference. The League of
Municipalities pushed for the legislation because it said
that welfare recipients with no place to go would turn to
their municipality for assistance.

According to the bill, a recipient would be eligible for the
extension if he or she has: applied for Supplemental
Security Income, is seeking treatment for an addiction, is
enrolled in a high school or GED program, or is in
"substantial compliance" with his or her emergency
assistance service plan but has been unable to find
 housing.

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