Advocates For Poor To Rally In Trenton — Thursday, June 15, 2006


Anti-poverty advocates will converge on the State House today to try to protect their programs from budget cuts as the Legislature continues negotiations over the 2007 fiscal year budget.

Organizers predicted that thousands would attend the "Rally for a Better New Jersey," with members of local non-profit and community food groups joining in.

"A strong showing will let the Legislature know that we are deeply concerned about items in the budget in terms of services to the poor, because the budget cannot be balanced on the backs of the poor," said Ed Lyons, executive director of the United Passaic Organization, a non-profit city social services agency.

Concerned about possible cuts to programs that offer child care, help poor families with energy bills and combat gang violence and homelessness, Lyons and other community leaders are calling for more funding as they see the need for those services increase.

The United Passaic Organization has a $600,000 annual budget, with 10 full-time outreach and administrative employees to provide those programs to an estimated 3,000 people.

In Paterson, the Rev. Ronald Tuff, executive director of the Paterson Task Force, oversees a $2.5 million budget and a staff of 37 to help an estimated 55,000 people throughout the year.

"The most important service is probably the heating-assistance program, because the cost of energy is going up and the poor cannot afford to pay; I mean, some of these people have given up," Tuff said.

The rally will urge support for specific budget items, including increasing money for after-school programs, expanding hunger- and homelessness-prevention assistance, enrolling more children for health-care coverage and fully funding child welfare programs.

Ev Liebman, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Citizen Action, which supports the rally, highlighted what's at stake. For example, $5 million in state money, combined with federal money, would add 50,000 children to the Family Care program that provides health insurance to poor children.

Another $3 million to the state's food distribution program, which supplies local food pantries and soup kitchens, would allow for the purchase of 4.7 million more pounds of food and help feed an additional 500,000 people, Liebman added.

"All of that is on the table or at risk," she said.

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