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NJ SHARES Agency Partners Convene to Combat Poverty in New Jersey
NJ SHARES agencies across the state met this month to hear the latest statistics on poverty in New Jersey, to assess the impact evaluation of the NJ SHARES program and to join in discussion on resources that can be used to provide holistic solutions to clients in need.
Striking facts about poverty in New Jersey were reported. According to the Legal Services of New Jersey's Poverty Research Institute (PRI), presentation of Poverty Benchmarks, it costs a household of three approximately $55,000 annually to sustain in New Jersey without any type of government assistance. The number of residents living in poverty is on the rise. Poverty among children and the elderly is increasing. Food insecurity has reached the highest level since the USDA began record keeping. Despite steady increases in food stamp usage, New Jersey continues to be among the lowest performing states in food stamp participation. Affordable housing is one of the largest burdens for NJ households. The need for rental assistance has outgrown program resources. The Poverty Benchmarks Project is an on-going data collection effort that aims to increase understanding of poverty in New Jersey as a foundation for more effective public response to the reality of poverty and its consequences. PRI research reports can be found at www.lsnj.org/PRI.
NJ SHARES network partners joined in the discussion to understand the increasing need and offer collaborative responses for clients. The Angel Food Ministries emerged as the least know resource. The Angel Food Ministry (www.angelfoodministries.org) can be used by anyone and accepts food stamps. See the website for local participating organizations and menu options.
National Telephone Discount Lifeline Awareness Week Commences September 12th - 18th
NJ SHARES joins the National Association of Regulatory Commissions and Verizon, NJ in celebration of Communications Lifeline and Link-Up America programs. Lifeline and Link-Up are federal programs that offer households discounts on their telephone monthly bills and reductions in the installation fees for households who cannot afford to pay the connection charges.
New Jersey’s enrollment in Lifeline is automatic for more than 100,000 low-income residents who are already enrolled in social service programs such as SSI, Medicaid, PAAD, LIHEAP, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families/Work First New Jersey (TANF), Food Stamp Program and others. Attention to these programs during this week, however, will help us incorporate many others who because of financial hardship do not have telephone service and may not be receiving the services they deserve.
To sign up, customers should call NJ SHARES at 1-888-337-3339 or visit www.njshares.org.
New Jersey Natural Gas Receives National Fuel Fund Network’s Safety-Net Partner Award
The National Fuel Fund Network honored New Jersey Natural Gas Company (NJNG) with their Energy Safety-Net Partner Award. The award honors NJNG for their recognition of and contribution to the efforts of the National Fuel Funds Network and to fuel funds in general. In addition to supporting the NFFN’s efforts, NJNG is also a Board member and long time supporter of New Jersey SHARES. Presenting the award is Barbara Gomes, Secretary of the NFFN Board of Directors and accepting the award is NJNG’s Vice-President of Customer Services, Kathleen Kerr.
LIHEAP Funding Outlook
As autumn approaches, funding for the critically important Federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) remains uncertain. LIHEAP provides home heating and cooling assistance to low-income households, generally in the form of payments to energy vendors on behalf of the recipient. States have flexibility in administering their programs, including determining benefit amounts and eligibility requirements within the Federal guidelines. When and how much funding will be available and how many households can be served with what size benefits remain unknown.
According to the National Fuel Fund Network analysis, Legislation providing funding for LIHEAP and other government programs has been delayed by the debate over increasing the government’s debt ceiling. Mark-ups of the Health and Human Services appropriations bill scheduled for August have been postponed and Congress will not return to session until after Labor Day. There is a possibility that Congress will pass a continuing resolution after the new fiscal year begins October 1. It is uncertain the amount that would be set. Adding to the confusion over LIHEAP funding is the legislation increasing the federal debt ceiling. This bill includes major cuts in federal spending but it is unclear exactly how the cuts will impact LIHEAP. An analysis of the legislation prepared by the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities for can be found at http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3557.
Annually NJ SHARES hosts the agencies in regional groups to collaborate and to bring valuable information and resources to our partners and friends. This year’s format was relevant to the economic climate in New Jersey. We are grateful for the good work of the Legal Services of New Jersey Poverty Research Institute for providing the data behind the cases we see daily. We are also grateful to Applied Public Research Institute for Study and Evaluation (APPRISE, Inc.) for providing the research and statistics regarding the characteristics of the NJ SHARES grant recipient and the impact analysis of the energy grant on the household crisis. According to the meeting evaluations, our agencies agree this data is valuable and needs to be shared. For many hardworking New Jersey families, economic recovery is elusive, and they are finding themselves slipping into debt. With the increasing need and the limited resources available, it is more important now than ever for us to share resources and ideas to help our neighbors.
Looking ahead to September, we continue to call attention to the Verizon Communications Lifeline program as a resource during the National Communications Lifeline Awareness Week, September 12th through 18th. Since 2005, we have been enrolling categorically eligible households into the Verizon, NJ Communications Lifeline Program. Our client services call center provides enrollment support to those households whose automatic enrollment is in jeopardy due to a clerical error or certification requirements. This service ensures thousands of households receive their Communications Lifeline benefit annually. In addition to this service, NJ SHARES agencies provide an application portal for seniors who are not on any of the categorically eligible programs to be automatically enrolled.
Our goal, with support from our agencies, partners and friends, is to help our neighbors to overcome the difficulties that they face on a daily basis. We know enduring the impacts of Hurricane Irene has given additional weight to our struggling neighbors. We value your support as we work to assist hard-working families to be self-sufficient again.
LIHEAP Action Day
NJ SHARES’ Board members join more than 60 National Fuel Fund Network members and LIHEAP supporters in LIHEAP Action Day held in Washington, D.C. on August 2. The intent of the event was to avert the proposed 50 percent cut in funding for LIHEAP for the next fiscal year and urge Congress to approve $5.1 billion in funding for the federal energy assistance program. The meetings were conducted in the wake of the tense debate over increasing the federal debt ceiling and amid the uneasiness over how the new legislation mandating cuts in government spending would affect LIHEAP.