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Assembly Committees Focus on Poverty

1-27-16

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

“Today I had asked four committees to hold hearings to see what we can do,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

The Assembly Human Services Committee, the Transportation Committee, the Housing Committee and the Women and Children Committee all focused on poverty today.

They looked at things like welfare.

“The cash grant that we provide for a family of three in New Jersey is $424 a month, compared to $2,800 a month which the same department that serves these families recognizes is what you actually need,” said Serena Rice, Executive Director for the Anti-Poverty Network of NJ.

They looked at mass transit and the poor.

“A huge workforce in a city like Perth Amboy, only a couple of mines, maybe only three to four miles away from lots of jobs in Raritan Center, but there is no way to get from there to there,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski.

They looked at affordable housing, job training and nutritional assistance.

“The administration decided to cut food stamps for 11,000 people, so that’s also an issue we’ve been frustrated with,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.

Prieto says he’s not looking to spend more money on the poor, just fix programs and remove bottlenecks.

“When you factor in livable wage, we have 2.8 million residents that live in poverty. That is embarrassing for the state of New Jersey, and we have to do something about it,” he said.

Advocates for the poor unveiled their wish lists, from better housing for the disabled to better pay for low-wage workers.

“When you raise the wages of workers, when you raise up the working poor, you actually have a beneficial impact on our local economy,” said NJ Working Families Executive Director Analilia Mejia.

Everyone appreciated the opening of the dialogue, but Republicans thought it should be broadened to attack the cost of living itself.

“Let’s start with property tax reduction because property taxes affect every citizen of the state, and whether you’re a homeowner or renter it has a direct impact on your life, and it’s a very regressive tax,” said Assemblyman Scott Rumana.

The fiscally conservative group Americans for Prosperity agrees with that.

“We really need to lower taxes here in New Jersey, make our business climate better. That’s the kind of thing that will allow people who are in poverty or transitioning out to have more opportunity here in New Jersey,” Mike Proto said.

State House veteran Jeannine LaRue gave Prieto high marks.

“It’s not just a smart move to carve it out as a priority, but it’s a very smart move to carve out a non-legislative day on a Wednesday holding hearings all day in four committees. It’s masterful,” she said.

“For me, Michael, I came from these beginnings. I know what it is to be on assistance, I know what it is to ride on buses, so I know what it takes to be able to grab yourself by the bootstraps and pull yourself up,” Prieto said.

Prieto will ask the four committee chairs for today’s best ideas, then put together a package of anti-poverty bills. Senate President Steve Sweeney said today he’ll support the effort.