STATEHOUSE UPDATE – Economic assistance bill advances

A General Assembly bill that would appropriate $22.5 million to fund food banks and soup kitchens, home heating assistance programs, and free legal services for low-income persons is advancing through the legislature, having been released by the Assembly Budget Committee this week.

The bill, if passed, would provide a tremendous boost to services that could be utilized by many of economically disadvantaged residents living in the City of Trenton and the rest of New Jersey.

The bill, No. 3374, provides approximately $3 million to the Department of Agriculture for what is known as the Hunger Initiative/Food Assistance Grant Program.

The program is one of the main avenues of support for many of the facilities that provide food for the state’s poor. The facilities have been increasingly stricken by falling donation levels and a surge in the number of families requiring help with food, as the economic crisis has worsened.

The second section of the bill provides $10 million to the Department of the Treasury to fund grants in the New Jersey Statewide Heating Assistance and Referral for Energy Services program, which helps fiscally-strained individuals with paying their utility bills.

The program, which is administered through approximately 150 community agencies, is the nation’s only statewide program that provides such grants to New Jersey residents, many of whom fall in an “in-between” income bracket that makes them ineligible for other types of utility assistance.

The final section of the bill provides $9.5 million in funds to the Department of the Treasury for the Legal Services of New Jersey, a non-profit group that provides low-income individuals and families with badly-needed legal services.

This non-profit agency has become especially helpful because of the mortgage crisis, which has resulted in thousands of foreclosures for many families that lack the financial resources to secure their own legal services while dealing with foreclosure proceedings.

The bill, which is part of a package of economic assistance requested by Gov. Jon S. Corzine, still needs to head to the full Assembly for an eventual vote for passage.

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