MONROE – With indicators showing one-fourth of all seniors and one-third of all people in New Jersey struggling to meet basic needs, the Anti-Poverty Network convened its annual summit today at the Crowne Plaza Monroe to address rising levels of poverty in the state and issue a “Call to Invest in the People of New Jersey.”
At the summit, the Anti-Poverty Network (APN) of New Jersey convened a broad cross-section of community leaders, state and local policymakers, advocacy organizations, educators and faith-based groups to discuss ways to address the most critical issues affecting financial insecurity in our state: housing, hunger, healthcare and economic empowerment. The goal of the Summit was to lay the groundwork for a partnership with state officials and leaders in business, education and community development to develop strategies to ensure a safe, productive and stable future for New Jersey residents.
“By Investing in the People of New Jersey we are calling on neighbors to help neighbors,” commented Jim Jacob, APN Chair and President and CEO of NJSHARES. “As an outcome of Superstorm Sandy, people who never had to face a financial crisis before were thrown into one. The economic downturn of recent years has led to many families and individuals finding themselves in need. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. While we are still fighting it here in New Jersey, we are troubled by the expanded nature of the audience affected by poverty.”
“With stagnant wages and cuts to social spending, New Jerseyans are facing a challenging economic future,” said Joyce Campbell, APN Vice Chair and Associate Executive Director for External Affairs, Catholic Charities. “There is a growing number of New Jerseyans that have incomes that are too low to meet the most basic costs of housing, nutrition, health care and other necessities. Households considered “middle class” just a few years ago are now facing the same struggles as those once considered poor. No matter what the “official” definition of poverty may be, when it becomes impossible to meet everyday expenses, then people are, in reality, living in poverty.”
Headlining panel discussions at the Summit were: Diane Riley, Community FoodBank of New Jersey; Staci Berger, Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey; Milly Silva, United Healthcare Workers East; Dena Mottola Jaborska, New Jersey Citizen Action and Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D4), who gave the keynote address.
Recommendations on Housing, Hunger, Healthcare and Employment
The APN has developed three white papers that outline critical steps needed to combat poverty in New Jersey.
Over the past four years, the state has NOT put new money into the budget to support housing starts, but has in fact tried to take money in municipal housing trust funds. Policies are needed to support building affordable homes. New Jersey also has the second highest rate of foreclosure inventory in the country. These foreclosed homes degrade neighborhoods and abandoned homes can be a place for crime, fires, etc. Foreclosures need to stop and unoccupied homes need to turn into a housing resource for New Jersey.
Stated Staci Berger, Executive Director, Housing Community Development Network of NJ
“Too many of our fellow New Jerseyans are living in less than ideal conditions. Many of our members have clients come through your doors who live on someone’s couch, in a car, or in a shelter. Too many people are struggling with the decision of whether to buy groceries, pay the rent or the heating bill. As our federal government negotiates its budget, we must urge our elected to fund programs like the National Housing Trust Fund so more people can have an affordable place to call home.”
- Creating a consistent and fair state housing plan to invest in housing for working families and homeless households
- Enacting legislation to enable foreclosed families to stay in their homes as renters until their home is sold
- Create a funding stream that would allow non-profits to rehabilitate foreclosed properties;
- Expand the State Rental Assistance Program by at least ten million dollars, with funding coming from the State Budget and not taken from other sources crucial to providing affordable housing
- Creating a new program – of the state’s extended emergency shelter assistance (EA) system to all lower-income households
- Increase funding for legal services to the poor so the more than 170,000 people facing summary eviction actions annually have legal representation
Low income families face two economic challenges in New Jersey; a lack of adequate employment opportunities and, when they are employed, a lack of work supports to help them get by in a state with one of the highest cost of living in the nation. Since the recession started in 2008, the number of unemployed New Jerseyans has doubled to about 400,000. Although the unemployment rate has declined somewhat, it is due in large part to the growth of low-wage jobs.
APN asks that you invest in the people of New Jersey by:
- Increasing the minimum wage and adjusting for inflation in the future to move toward the goal of achieving economic self-sufficiency for working families
- Restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit to 25 percent of the federal credit
- Providing additional funding for outreach in the Affordable Care Act
- Expanding education, work support and training services for New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents by increasing the eligibility levels in Workfirst NJ
More than a million New Jerseyans, almost 400,000 of them children, lack food security, according to the latest data. New Jersey’s high cost of living makes about 40% of those struggling with food insecurity ineligible for federal nutritional assistance. The School breakfast program is under-utilized by New Jerseyans. Food banks are seeing huge spikes in demand, but donations of goods and cash from private sources, foundations and food drives are down due to a bad economy.
APN recommends several steps to combat hunger, including:
- Supporting the expansion of School Breakfast both fiscally and administratively and reinstate supplemental funding of the program to provide fiscal incentives to districts to adopt a “breakfast after the bell” approach to school breakfast
- Expanding access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by applying to the Federal Food and Nutritional Services program for available waivers that increase eligibility to 200 percent of the federal poverty level so struggling families and senior citizens can access appropriate food assistance
- Address the process delays being experienced by SNAP applicants at the county level, focusing both on improved business models, and on hiring adequate frontline staff to process applicants in a timely manner
- Expand state funding for the State Supplemental Food Program
The Rev. Sara Lilja, Director, Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry, and member APN Steering Committee said, “What concerns me is that Pastors in Teaneck, Trenton and Toms River all have shared with me recently that the needs in their communities are increasing. Churches in Gloucester and Camden Counties have also phoned. All across the state congregations are experiencing a steady increase in request for assistance in their communities, with these requests coming from working families who are finding it more and more difficult to make ends reach. In the ELCA Social Statement ‘Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All’ the Lutheran Church teaches that, God is at work in economic life. Economic life is intended to be a means through which God’s purposes for humankind and creation are to be served. When this does not occur, as a church we cannot remain silent because of who and whose we are. Remaining silent about this growing gap between the rich and the poor in our state is not an option; it is a huge concern for us. We are working with the Anti-Poverty Network of NJ to visit our legislatures highlighting this inequity; we are working to raise the awareness of our elected officials so that EITC will be put back into the State budget along with other measures that address the systemic causes of poverty including the incredibly high cost of housing.”
The Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey will continue to work in partnership with state officials and with leaders in business, education, health care and community development to address the recommendations issued in the Call to Invest in the People of New Jersey.
The Anti-Poverty Network is an information-oriented forum concerned with ending or eliminating poverty. During its history, APN has convened more than 300 grass-roots and advocacy organizations, faith based groups, labor organizations, and individuals living in poverty and others to bring a collective voice on issues of common concern to state government officials. For more information, visit www.antipovertynetwork.org.
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