Work First New Jersey is the state's welfare reform program, designed to provide temporary financial assistance to needy families. Eligible households receive cash benefits each month. The program also offers other services to help you achieve economic self-sufficiency. New Jersey offers assistance with child care, transportation and even finding a job.
Work First is available to U.S. citizens and legal aliens living in New Jersey. You must have a dependent child living up to age 18, or age 19 if the child is still a high school student and living with you. Anyone with a drug conviction on or after Aug. 22, 1996 is permanently disqualified from receiving benefits. If there's an absent parent, you must cooperate with child support enforcement to help establish or enforce a child support order. You'll need to work at least 35 hours a week doing a combination of:
- paid work
- searching for a job
- community service or volunteer work
- attending college, vocational training, adult education or technical school
- participating in a skill-building program
- receiving substance abuse treatment or behavioral health treatment
For families with children younger than six, additional programs are available to help you satisfy the work requirement.
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Income and Assets
You must have an extremely low income to qualify for Work First. At the time of publication, a single parent with three children is limited to $636 of income a month or $7,632 a year. When you begin working, your earnings are excluded for the entire first month, so you'll receive your paycheck along with cash assistance. For the next six months, only 25 percent of your earned wages are subtracted from your cash benefit amount. After that, 50 percent of your earnings are deducted from the benefit until you earn too much to qualify.
You can't have more than $2,000 in countable resources, which include money in the bank or cash, in order to qualify. However, your vehicle and home don't count in that calculation.
Cash assistance through WFNJ is limited to five years, unless you qualify for an exemption. You may qualify for an exemption if you're:
- permanently disabled
- the sole caretaker of a disabled child
- over age 60
- a victim of domestic violence
After you've reached the five-year limit, you may continue to receive cash assistance through the Supportive Assistance to Individuals and Families program. Under the program, families with children can receive cash benefits plus child care and transportation services for 24 additional months. To qualify, you must continue working or participating in a work activity.
If you're experiencing an immediate hardship, you may qualify for the Emergency Assistance under the General Assistance program. You're eligible if you:
- are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless
- experienced a substantial loss of basic needs, such as housing, food, clothing or household furnishings due to a disaster
Unlike Work First, there are no dependency requirements. Emergency Assistance is available for up to 12 months. Under the program, you can receive food, clothing, shelter, furniture, rent or mortgage assistance, help with past-due or disconnected utility bills, transportation assistance and help with moving expenses.