NJ DHS Acts to Assist New At-Risk New Jerseyans

Photo credit: NJ Spotlight

State Takes Action to Prevent Homelessness; Improve Access to Services and Supports and Remove Barriers

On April 24, 2019, New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Carole Johnson announced that DHS is acting to assist individuals and families who are either homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless. DHS is making it easier for New Jerseyans at risk of homelessness to receive critical services and assistance.

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

“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.”

Policy changes to Emergency Assistance services include:

Ensuring Services for those in “Immediate Need”: DHS is issuing clarifying guidance to counties, which administer Emergency Assistance services. This clarifying guidance makes 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: DHS 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: DHS 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. The tax returns had been required 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 are:

Helping Families who are Homeless Access Child Care Services: DHS is establishing a new policy in its child care subsidy program, which assists families with lower incomes afford child care services. This new policy 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 DHS believes this change will better serve the needs of families who are particularly vulnerable.

Click here to read more from DHS.

Click here for contact information on county boards of social services.