Taking Action to Remove Barriers to Services and Supports

(TRENTON) – New Jersey Department of Human Services announced that the Department is taking action to make it easier for individuals and families who are either homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless to receive critical services and assistance in a timely way.

The changes include updating guidance and proposing rule changes to make timely access to Emergency Assistance services easier for eligible individuals struggling to make rent, pay utilities or secure emergency shelter; making it easier for families experiencing homelessness to get child care; and easing barriers to enrollment for these critical programs.

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“Too many individuals and families across New Jersey struggle to get on the strongest possible financial footing,” said Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson. “As we implement important changes like increasing the minimum wage to help our families improve their economic outlook, we also need to ensure that our safety net is strong to protect those who continue to struggle.  The steps we are taking today will strengthen our ability to prevent and respond to the threat of homelessness.    Most importantly, these changes will bring critical help to individuals and families at their time of greatest need.”

“Building a stronger and fairer New Jersey means helping those facing a housing crisis find safe shelter while we help them on a path to stable housing, and the Department of Human Services is committed to helping families get the support they need,” said Human Services Deputy Commissioner Elisa Neira. “That’s why we’re taking steps to remove barriers and get timely help to those at-risk of homelessness.” 

Policy changes to Emergency Assistance services include:

·         Ensuring Services for those in “Immediate Need”:  NJ Human Services is issuing clarifying guidance to counties, which administer Emergency Assistance services, making clear that under the State’s “immediate need” policy, individuals and families who are likely eligible for financial and/or housing assistance  but who have not yet been determined eligible, are able to receive services immediately if they lack shelter or are at imminent risk of losing shelter    This clarification is intended to ensure that individuals in need of immediate shelter or of assistance to prevent losing their home or apartment, get help quickly while their application is reviewed.  The policy provides for up to 30 days of temporary services for individuals and families in immediate need of shelter, food, or clothing.

·         Repealing the “Causing Your Own Homelessness” Standard:  The Department will issue rulemaking to repeal regulations that allow individuals to be denied Emergency Assistance when they are deemed to have “caused their own homelessness.”  The lack of clarity around this regulatory standard has resulted in varied interpretations and inconsistency in implementation.  Instead, the revised rule will seek to more clearly define eligibility as well as good cause exceptions for individuals otherwise ineligible for Emergency Assistance.

·         Better Supporting Young Adults At-Risk of Homelessness:  The Department intends to revise an existing rule to eliminate the requirement that some individuals seeking assistance, such as Emergency Assistance to prevent homelessness, provide their parents’ tax returns to demonstrate that they are not claimed as a dependent by their parents.  This can make it difficult for young adults in need of services to obtain critical help. 

Policy change to the Child Care Subsidy Program:

·         Helping Families who are Homeless Access Child Care Services:  The Department is establishing a new policy in its child care subsidy program, which assists families with lower incomes afford child care services, that will provide families experiencing homelessness up to six months of child care subsidy services while they compile the standard documentation needed to establish eligibility. Documentation is generally needed before services are initiated, but the Department believes this change will better serve the needs of families who are particularly vulnerable.

Preventing and reducing homelessness is a key priority for the Murphy Administration. During his March budget address, Governor Murphy proposed plans for a new Office of Homelessness Initiatives in the Department of Community Affairs, which will help coordinate efforts to prevent and combat homelessness and expand access to housing options. The DHS and DCA will continue to work closely and coordinate efforts to serve residents in need.

“We are very excited by these long-awaited changes that represent big steps forward in our fight against homelessness in New Jersey,” said Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “Ensuring services for those in immediate need, especially repealing the unclear and hurtful ‘causing your own homelessness’ standard and supporting young adults at-risk of homelessness will bring much-needed help to individuals and families when they need it the most. New Jersey is removing barriers and opening the doors to assistance.”

The Department also announced that New Jerseyans who are SSI recipients and receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and also receive Lifeline Utility Assistance through the Division of Aging Services may be eligible for additional benefits.

The Lifeline Utility Assistance program provides a $225 annual benefit to eligible individuals to help meet heating and cooling needs.  Based on the Department’s ability to match SNAP recipients and Lifeline Utility Assistance beneficiaries, as of April 1, the Department was able to credit a higher utility deduction to more than 27,000 SNAP households, which resulted in an average monthly increase of $98 in SNAP benefits.          

“This important change will increase the food budgets of tens of thousands of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents,’’ said Adele LaTourette, director of Hunger Free New Jersey. “We commend the New Jersey Department of Human Services for taking this critical step that will help reduce hunger in households across the Garden State.’’

Emergency Assistance provides benefits such as essential food, clothing, shelter and household furnishings; temporary rental assistance or back rent or mortgage payments; and, utility payments.  Emergency Assistance is generally limited to 12 months of support, with targeted extensions based on circumstances.  In 2018, Governor Murphy signed legislation extending the time limit for Emergency Assistance for particular groups of recipients; the extension terminates in five years. 

Eligible extension groups include SSI recipients and recipients who are permanently disabled, over 60 years of age, categorized as “chronically unemployable,” and, those who are parents or relatives that must provide full-time care for a disabled child or disabled dependent.

“Securing housing for a family is the first step in helping that family get back on their feet,” said Human Services’ Division of Family Development Director Natasha Johnson.  “We will continue to look for opportunities to advance policies to prevent homelessness and protect our most vulnerable residents.”

For contact information on county boards of social services, visit www.state.nj.us/humanservices/dfd/programs/njsnap/cbss/index.html.