New Jersey Lawmakers To Focus On Poverty

By John Celock

The New Jersey Assembly will focus on poverty issues Wednesday with four committees scheduled to meet to hold hearings on the issue.

The Assembly’s Human Services, Transportation and Independent Authorities, Women and Children and Housing and Community Development Committees plan to meet throughout the day to discuss the issue. The meetings come as Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) has indicated that poverty will be the main theme for legislative Democrats this year.

“We live in a state where the richest 20 percent hold half of all the income. We applaud and welcome such success, but such inequality is concerning, both when it comes to sound fiscal and smart social policy,” Prieto said in a statement. “We must rebuild the middle-class and make New Jersey more affordable with common sense 21st century ideas and government reforms.”

When announcing the poverty focus last week, Prieto said the hearings are geared towards developing legislation for lawmakers to work on this year addressing the poverty issue, along with income inequality.

The Human Services Committee – chaired by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) – will start off the day with hearings focused on the state’s social service agencies. The hearing description said that the committee will hear from the agencies about their work on moving residents out of poverty.

The Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee – chaired by Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) – will be focused on the impact the state’s transportation system has on poverty in the state. The hearing description said among the areas the committee will focus on is mass transit and poverty. The issue of mass transit has been a key debate for those involved in poverty and social work, who said that lack of transit has made it harder for people to access jobs and educational opportunities.

The Housing and Community Development Committee – chaired by Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Plainfield) – will be focused on housing issues in the state, with a focus on the housing needs of those in poverty. Advocates in New Jersey have pointed to the state’s high housing prices as a barrier to moving people out of poverty in the past.

The Women and Children Committee – chaired by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Cherry Hill) – is scheduled to hear about the issue of children living in poverty in the state.

The New Jersey focus on poverty comes as Democrats nationally have been making income inequality a major focus of the party going forward. The issue first came from the Working Families Party and the progressive community nationally and gained steamed following the 2013 election of New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio (D). U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has also been championing the income inequality issue nationally.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has made the issue central to his campaign, while Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley have also focused on the issue in their campaigns. More Democratic leaders around the country have been making income inequality a central focus, as it becomes a top issue with Democratic activists nationwide.

“Some of this is going to be challenging and require innovative ideas,” Prieto said in a statement of the goal for the Assembly. “Some of this is doing what’s right and ensuring programs operate more efficiently and effectively to make New Jersey more affordable.”