Here is the latest in our 7-week Budget Spotlight series, Rethink the 2016 NJ Budget, with the Anti-Poverty Network. Deb is Exec. Director of NJ Coalition to End Homelessness. – Rosi
Imagine that you are a single mother working two minimum wage jobs. Every month you have to juggle payments for rent, utilities, child care, car, insurance, gas, food, medicine, and clothing. One emergency – sickness causing you to miss work, divorce, death of a loved one, job loss – can upend your balancing act. It can be hard to really understand what that monthly, or even daily struggle can feel like, but a unique resource to help enter the experience of struggle is provided by the online game called “Spent,” developed by the Urban Ministries of Durham, North Carolina.
New Jersey Needs More Investment in Prevention: New Jersey has two programs – Homeless Prevention Program (HPP) and Social Services for the Homeless (SSH) – that help prevent homelessness among the working poor and those not eligible for welfare. These two programs provide emergency short-term assistance for working families that might otherwise lose their homes. The economic crises that can lead to homelessness vary, so these programs offer flexibility in the kind of help they can provide, including payments for rent, security or utility deposits, utility payments, or emergency food, as well as limited case management when a working family needs help.
Just this past Friday, Governor Christie released the Final Report of the Interagency Council on Homelessness. One of the important recommendations of that Report is to expand Social Services for the Homeless to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless.
Why is help needed for working families? As a recent article in the New York Times highlighted, our low wage structure means that many workers – cashiers, home health care aides, food service employees – can only get through the month by relying on public assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid,. For low wage working families like these, HPP and SSH are the only programs New Jersey offers to make sure that an emergency doesn’t lead to homelessness. The proposed state budget would provide a combined total of just over $21.4 million between the two programs, an amount that has been virtually stagnant since the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The flat funding of these programs year after year – when inflation and expenses have increased — means that there is less money to help people each year.