Dear Senator Toomey
A dramatic speech was given this month by an advocate at a 'Tuesdays with Toomey' event in Philadelphia. Myra Young provides the human side to the story of why there are demonstrations all across the United States. There are millions of Myra Young's in our country, all struggling to make ends meet, all wondering how they will put food on the table, all living paycheck to paycheck.
The following is a version of Ms. Young's remarks made on February 7, 2017. The comments should be intended to every United States Senator and Representative. Send a copy to your elected officials.
Dear Senator Toomey,
You don’t know me. You have never met me, or answered any of my calls. But you have power and influence over my life—and my children’s well-being—and that scares me.
So Senator Toomey, let me introduce myself: My name is Myra Young. I’m a mother, an advocate, and I live in poverty.
I work hard to take care of my family. For the last 22 years I worked as a certified nursing assistant, but I still lived in poverty and needed government assistance to put food on the table and to keep my kids healthy. Two months ago, the company I worked for closed and I was laid off. Now without my job, my struggle is even more difficult. I only receive $33 a month in food stamps—barely enough to get my family through one healthy meal. My kids need fruit and vegetables, but I simply cannot afford them.
Last week, my 10-year-old son asked, “Mom, why do you cry so much?”
I told him, “Because I want to take care of you and your sister, but it’s so hard.”
But why is it so hard, Senator?
It’s hard because wages are too low.
It’s hard because we have to beg for scraps when we need help.
And it’s hard because of politicians like you, Senator Toomey.
You have everything I want: a safe home to go to, a job that pays a good wage, and a family in good health. But you want to take away the little bit I have by cutting programs that help me — and people like me — feed my family. That hurts us. That keeps us down. And that makes me angry.
You are wrong, Senator Toomey.
You are wrong if you don’t protect these programs.
You are wrong if you don’t care about my family.
Would you be able to survive one week in my shoes? Would you be able to manage the daily struggle of trying to feed your family? Manage the stress of not knowing if you will be able to pay rent for the month? Manage the fear that your child may need health care that you cannot afford?
If I were in your shoes, and had the power to help a mother with two disabled children, I would do it. I would make sure she has the services she needs to care for her family. I would take care of the more than 1.6 million people in Pennsylvania who live paycheck to paycheck.
Senator Toomey, as a member of Witness to Hunger, my sisters and I will continue to speak out and fight for the needs of our children, families, and communities.
It’s your responsibility to do the same.
In Celebration of 2-1-1 Day
With every passing year, new partnerships are made between NJ 2-1-1 and government and community organizations. These partnerships establish clear pathways for people to follow when help is needed. In celebration of national 2-1-1 Day, we celebrate how 2-1-1 makes help happen in New Jersey.
In 2016 NJ 2-1-1 connected 363,627 people with services they might otherwise have missed. NJ 2-1-1 community resource specialists answered 155,737 calls for assistance. Another 5,835 calls were forwarded directly to state hotlines. Our website received 202,055 visitors.
Our partnerships with United Ways across New Jersey, as well as state and local government help connect people in-need with existing services and programs. In 2016 our partnerships and special initiatives took us above and beyond traditional information and referral and enabled us to make help happen. See our Year in Review.
Since 2005 NJ 2-1-1 has been providing residents of our state with connections to essential resources that often move callers in crisis from despair to hope. "While many of the calls we receive come from families who are looking for solutions to the most basic of needs like utility assistance, food and affordable housing," states NJ 2-1-1 board president Gina Plotino, "we answer calls for many other things too, such as mental health counseling, childcare or transportation. Call 9-1-1 for emergencies. Call 2-1-1 for everything else." With a resource database of nearly 3,000 agencies and more than 10,000 programs and services, NJ 2-1-1 is the easiest place to start to find a solution to any problem relating to health and human service needs.
Source: A February 10, 2017 email titled, "The Easiest Place to Start" from the Executive Director of the NJ 2-1-1 Partnership.
EITC Awareness Day
Once a year at the end of January the Internal Revenue Services and its partners do a one day media event to advertise the Earned Income Tax Credit program, a tax program that has been around since the Nixon Administration. Today, January 27, 2017, is another EITC Awareness Day.
The good points about EITC are that it provides tax relief for low and moderate income working families. The IRS even encourages people to take advantage of it. They partner with software companies to make tax filing free to many households. Checkout Free File. EITC tax refunds lift millions out of poverty and make life a little easier.
The bad news is that one out of five households do not take advantage by claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit. In New Jersey, an estimated 197,000 taxpayers are losing out of an average EITC refund totaling approximately $2350. Do the math - unclaimed tax refunds equal to $462 million. To make matters worse, New Jersey once was recognized as a leader of EITC but now has sunk to near bottom, 45th among 50 states, in the EITC participation rate ranking. See https://www.eitc.irs.gov/EITC-Central/Participation-Rate.
Here are a few tips. To find a free tax preparation site (generally if you make $54,000 a year or less) visit either NJ 2-1-1 Partnership's NJ VITA Sites or IRS Get Free Tax Prep Help Page or the AARP Tax-Aide Locator.
To first find out if you qualify, visit the EITC Assistant. By answering all the questions you can find out if you are eligible for EITC. The tool also provides an estimate of the amount of your credit.
Employers have a responsibility to let their workers know about this program. They should be distributing a notice titled, "Have You Told Your Employees About the Earned Income Credit (EIC)?" Ask your employer to runoff copies and attach it to W-2 statements.
There are a number of web sites useful to IRS partners, employers, government agencies/offices and nonprofits. These website provide outreach material, flyers and other social media tools. They include: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' Get It Back Campaign and EITC Central. County welfare agencies and One Stop Career Centers distribute the Division of Family Development's 2016 EITC Fact Sheet.
EITC Awareness Day - can you afford to do without it?
Other useful tax preparation assistance information is available at the NJ Community Resources website.
Resisting Donald Trump
House Republicans were beaten back in their efforts to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, an arm of Congress whose mission is to investigate corruption and unethical behavior. A storm of criticism reached Washington with hundreds of calls made to House members either directly or via the United States Capitol Switchboard, 202-224-3121.
New Jersey's two Senators and twelve Representatives are:
- Robert Menendez - Democrat 202-224-4744
- Corey Booker - Democrat 202-224-3224
- Donald Norcross - Democrat - 1st District 202-225-6501
- Frank LoBiondo - Republican, 2nd District 202-225-6572
- Tom MacArthur - Republican, 3rd District 202-225-4765
- Chris Smith - Republican, 4th District 202-225-3765
- Josh Gottheimer - Democrat, 5th District 202-225-4465
- Frank Pallone, Jr. - Democrat, 6th District 202-225-4671
- Leonard Lance - Republican, 7th District 202-225-5361
- Albio Sires - Democrat, 8th District 202-225-7919
- Bill Pascrell - Democrat, 9th District 202-225-5751
- Donald Payne, Jr. - Democrat, 10th District 202-225-3436
- Rodney Frelinghuysen - Republican, 11th District 202-225-5034
- Bonnie Watson Coleman - Democrat, 12th District 202-225-5801
You may want to capture these phone numbers for future action, whether it is to voice your concerns, send a message, or as a sign of protest. You deserve to be heard on matters important to you, whether it deals with Cabinet picks, environmental concerns, the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), civil rights/civil liberties, etc.
You can also access this list online by visiting the House Of Representatives Directory of Representatives.
Violence Against Women
Recently the nation was shocked to hear a Presidential candidate bragging about his behavior toward women. Terms such as 'predatory' and 'sexual assault' describe his words and actions. The list below serves to help women who have experienced unwanted behavior. The way to end violence against women is to stand and work together, as it thrives when we remain silent.
Very often women do not know where to turn to seek counseling or emergency shelter. Below are a listing of organizations in each of New Jersey's twenty-one counties.
- Atlantic: The Women's Center
- Bergen: Alternatives to Domestic Violence
- Bergen: Center for Hope and Safety
- Burlington: Providence House Domestic Violence Services
- Camden: Camden County Women's Center
- Cape May: C.A.R.A. - Coalition Against Rape and Abuse
- Cumberland: Services Empowering Rights of Victims (SERV)
- Essex: Partners for Women and Justice
- Essex: Essex County Family Justice Center
- Essex: FAMILYConnections
- Essex: Rachel Coalition
- Essex: The Safe House
- Gloucester: Services Empowering Rights of Victims (SERV)
- Hudson: WomenRising
- Hudson: Hudson Speaks Against Sexual Violence
- Hunterdon: SAFE in Hunterdon
- Mercer: Womanspace
- Middlesex: Women Aware
- Monmouth: 180 Turning Lives Around
- Morris: Jersey Battered Women's Service
- Ocean: Providence House Domestic Violence Services
- Passaic: Passaic County Women's Center
- Passaic: Project S.A.R.A.H.
- Passaic: Wafa House
- Salem: Salem County Women's Services
- Somerset: Safe+Sound Somerset
- Sussex: DASI (Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Intervention Services)
- Union: Project Protect - YWCA Union County
- Union: Unchained At Last
- Warren: Domestic Abuse & Sexual Assault Crisis Center
Legal Services of New Jersey has revised their publication, 80 pages, Domestic Violence: A Guide to the Legal Rights of Domestic Violence Victims In New Jersey. An important phone number is the Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-572-7233. However, in an emergency dial 911 for the police.
Welfare To Work Brochure Available
"Do you feel STUCK... ...on Welfare?" is the title of a brochure produced in partnership with a nonprofit organization, The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless. It provides information on a number of programs and is written for TANF clients, as well as families who have left welfare. For New Jersey nonprofits that provide counseling to low-income customers it offers useful information for new staff.
A few items in the Coalition's brochure are worth highlighting. For example:
Employment Disregards provide an incentive to work. Earnings are completely disregarded in the first month of employment. It must be reported within ten days of receiving the first paycheck. Thereafter, 75% of gross earnings are disregarded, for up to six months. If a household remains eligible after the sixth month the disregard falls to 50%. For a full explanation consult an eligibility worker or case manager at your local county welfare agency.
Clients who are working but remain eligible for a partial grant may opt in to the Supplemental Work Support program. An application must be requested for SWS before the cash assistance case closes. Ask to speak to an income eligibility worker.
The brochure also makes references to stopping the clock. Families need to be reminded that welfare is time limited. Unless exempted, cash assistance ends after sixty months. The Supportive Assistance to Individuals and Families (SAIF) program provides intensive case management services to individuals as they approach the 60 month limit.
Families are encouraged to take advantage of a number of Post-TANF benefits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) both federal and state, transportation services, child care, energy assistance (LIHEAP, USF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.
This Welfare to Work brochure is available for downloading.
This is the third and last article in a series pertaining to welfare and workforce development.
Supports For Working Families
The majority of adults who leave welfare are often found to be employed in the months after they disconnect from public assistance. Many "welfare leavers" take advantage of popular social programs such as Medicaid, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and school breakfast programs. Other programs are not as well utilized or communicated to those attempting to become self-sufficient. The purpose of this article is to focus on a few programs in New Jersey that are not so commonly known.
Transitional Child Care (TCC) provides a subsidy for the twenty-four months following a TANF case closing. Parents should contact their Case Manager so a referral can be sent to the child care agency in their county. Note: even if a case is closed for reasons other than employment, a parent may be eligible for TCC, if current employed.
Supplemental Work Support (SWS) provides a $200 per month benefit for up to two years to a family that voluntarily withdraws from TANF. The application for SWS must be made prior to the case closing due to employment earnings. To qualify a household must meet the following conditions: 1) working twenty hours or more per week for the past four months, 2) have been on cash assistance for at least six months, 3) still receiving a partial grant prior to case closing. The $200 a month benefit does not count against the five year time limit. In fact, it "stops the clock."
The Career Advancement Voucher Program (CAVP) allows individuals to obtain additional training or education after welfare. Requirements include: maintaining their current employment, have been working for at least the past four months. A person interested in work-related classes may receive a voucher up to $4000. The benefit is only available within the two years after TANF closing date. For a referral, contact a Work First New Jersey Case Manager.
Additional programs and benefits are available to working families. For information on these and other programs - SNAP, LIHEAP, USF, EITC and the "Get A Job, Get A Ride" program - download the attached documents. The Support for Working Families brochure was published in hard-copy earlier this year by the NJ Division of Family Development. The Post-TANF Support Services That You Need to Know About! flyer was produced in partnership with the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
This is the second in a series of articles and documents to be issued pertaining to welfare and workforce development.
Work First New Jersey Handbook
Twenty years ago "welfare as we know it" was fundamentally changed with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. New requirements and responsibilities are now a standard rule, along with the availability of a number of supportive services. Yet, after two decades, information is not be readily disseminated so welfare clients can make informed decisions in their efforts to become self-sufficient.
Every applicant for cash assistance is given a handbook which gives an overview of the program, available support services, as well as information on time limits, income disregards, work activities, deferrals and sanctions.
The handbook also details the many programs that individuals and families may receive both while receiving assistance and for the two year period following case closing. A number of these programs are under-utilized. They include: Supplemental Work Support (SWS), Career Advancement Voucher Program (CAVP), Transitional Child Care (TCC) and transportation services.
This is the first in a series of articles and documents to be issued pertaining to welfare and workforce development.
For further information, please email Michael Swayze at email@example.com.