Governor Christie in a few weeks will present his new budget for the fiscal year ending June 2012. He has already said he wants to make substantial changes in the State Pension and Health plan including rolling back a 9 percent increase enacted in 2001, suspending retirees’ cost- of-living increases, raising the retirement age, and increasing employee contributions. Also he is not ruling out further cuts in the general budget. As most New Jerseyans are finding out, transit costs, property taxes, state services fees, NJ Homesaver Rebates, closing libraries, school services, and fewer women’s health clinics are just some of the hurdles we face. Because of all the cuts Governor Christie is imposing it is all the more important that our safety net be strengthened.
A local public, private and non-profit collaboration for one month is now offering a service that the State should help with its own funding. The United Way of Passaic County, in partnership with AARP, Passaic County Community College, the IRS, Wells Fargo Bank and NJ211 announced the opening of a Financial Empowerment Zone (FEZ). Together they offer at no cost to Passaic residents tax preparation, financial literacy, benefits screening, and referrals. Understanding our tax code is difficult for all of us, but many can not afford tax preparation fees. They are unaware of the advantages of the Earned Income Tax Credit and other tax benefits due them. Some lack financial literacy and are unaware of services they could use.
In the midst of a budget-cutting spree there are still low-cost initiatives that Governor Christie should undertake. This is just one of them. Helping those less fortunate with basic finances would be an important safety net service that he could support. Taxpayers can make an appointment for tax filing or for benefits screening by calling United Way toll-free at 2-1-1 or 973-279-8900 x205.
What suggestions do you have for new low-cost initiatives to compensate for Christie’s cuts?