February 8, 2009

This is what the Republicans and Blue Dog Dems are turning their backs on:

All over the New Jersey, the welfare lines are getting longer and longer. Victims of the recession are lining up to apply for food stamps and seek help paying for utilities, rent and subsidized health care in numbers that veteran social service workers have never seen before.

While the lines may run the longest in urban Essex County, rural Salem County and suburban Middlesex see the same thing: lines getting longer, lines made up more and more of people that have never stood there before.

Nikki Hernez, a 45-year-old Newark bus driver looking for work since October, said she has stood in lines all over the county. She walked 2 1/2 miles to a Newark office Monday to pick up a bus pass, only to be told to come back Thursday because the office was so jammed.

Hernez finds the line in East Orange office the most chaotic.

"The line at 50 South Clinton Avenue is crazy -- people get there early in the morning, a lot of the people are cursing, yelling and screaming," Hernez said.

"You gotta understand, people are under so much pressure there is only so much they can take," said Hernez, who ran out of unemployment benefits and applied for welfare in the fall. "But even I tell them, real nice, you're not going to get anything quick by cursing the worker out."

[...] They include people like Joan, a 52-year-old Warren County resident who applied for public assistance in December, after years of holding white-collar and part-time tutoring jobs. County workers told her to come back in January because they were "so overloaded," she said.

Joan, who declined to reveal her full name to protect her son's privacy, said she doesn't blame the county workers -- "good people doing the best they can. But I have always been a taxpaying citizen. I am playing by the rules and I can't get help."

And really, that's what it's about. If even people who worked hard and played by the rules can't get help, our leadership is a joke and our system a complete failure:

She said she pawned jewelry to make a car payment, and put food on the table by going to food pantries and taking handouts from friends and family until, upon her third visit, the county came through with a one-time food stamp grant for $227 last month.

"I never thought I would be in this situation," Joan added. "Something has to be done about people like me."

The state Department of Human Services, which oversees the distribution of welfare, Medicaid and food stamps benefits, saw a dramatic spike in the demand for these programs in the fall. Food-stamp applications doubled from 2,234 people in October 2007 to 4,547 people in October 2008, according to the most recent state data available.

During roughly the same period, there was a 61 percent spike in the number of people seeking cash assistance through public welfare, known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or General Assistance. State unemployment rose to 7.1 percent in November, the highest in 15 years.

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