In the past week news articles have reported that nearly 33,000 New Jersey workers are exhausting their extended unemployment benefits. Although we are also hearing about a few positive economic indicators, one of the last one’s to improve is the unemployment rate. The state estimates an additional 3500 to 4000 individuals will be losing their unemployment benefits every week for the balance of 2009.
Where can these individuals and families turn to so they can feed their children or get aid so their utilities don’t get cut off? Aside from temporary assistance programs (medicaid, food stamps, cash assistance, etc. available at county welfare agencies or job seeking services at local One Stop Career Centers which are co-located with the state Employment Service, there are a few other resources or tools that many still don’t know about.
Two valuable but underutilized tools or resources are: 2-1-1 and NJHelps.
2-1-1 is both a telephone number and a statewide database maintained by a partnership of United Way agencies and the state of New Jersey. The system went statewide in 1995 after being piloted in a few counties in 2002. Their website has been supplying information since 1996. Many of us in the social service field are aware that not knowing who or where to turn to can be a very frustrating and emotional experience. 2-1-1 helps to navigate the complexities of the health and social services network. Give them a call or check their website at http://www.nj211.org.
NJHelps is a state run website located at www.njhelps.org that is a self-screening tool for about 28 state and federal programs. It has the potential for assessing -but not actually approving – eligibility for such programs as food stamps, FamilyCare, energy assistance, and cash assistance. It provides additional information in such areas as addiction, child and family programs, employment, food and nutrition, health services, housing, mental health services, and services for the disabled and seniors. Again, the screening tool does not determined eligibility but it can certainly point an individual or family in the right direction.
These tools and programs have been publicized on the New Jersey Community Resources website for a number of years. This website tries to put everything under an easy to navigate roof. For example, on the community resources page is a section known as the Public Benefits Corner which have application forms for many programs all in one place.
Other useful pages on the New Jersey Community Resources website include the following: information on all the state energy assistance programs, how to avoid a utility shutoff, or knowing who is protected under the Winter Termination Program. Other pages help to locate the address or website of their state legislator or members of Congress. It never hurts to let representatives know what is going on.
The Department of Human Services, in an effort to assist the thousands of families who will be seeking help very shortly, has compiled a Quick Reference Guide to Social Services and Housing Resources. Feel free to distribute and circulate this very useful sheet.
For additional information, send an email to: info”at”njcommunityresources.info. (Substitute “@” for “at”.)