BREAKING NEWS

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NJ SNAP RECIPIENTS RECEIVE FEBRUARY BENEFITS EARLY DUE TO FEDERAL SHUTDOWN

TRENTON - The New Jersey Department of Human Services announced that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for February have successfully been paid early amid the continued federal government shutdown.


Recipients who received a SNAP benefit in January and who were approved for continued assistance received their February benefits Jan. 17 on their Families First Card.


New Jersey has about 730,000 SNAP recipients. After the Jan. 17 payments, there is no guarantee of additional SNAP payments until the federal shutdown is resolved.


“I appreciate the hard work of everyone involved who helped to ensure this vital assistance was delivered,” said Governor Murphy. “The SNAP program is one of several federal programs critical to many New Jerseyans that are at risk should President Trump’s shutdown continue. We remain committed to stand with our residents and urge an immediate end to this shutdown.”


“I thank the state and county employees and leadership who worked so hard to make sure this vital assistance was delivered, and continue to call on the Trump Administration to end the federal shutdown,” said Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson. “We need to return to regular order for the sake of the families in our state who depend on these important benefits. Until that happens, SNAP recipients should budget accordingly as there is no guarantee this crucial assistance will be available beyond February.”


SNAP is a federal program administered by the Department of Human Services. It offers nutrition assistance to eligible individuals and families with low incomes.


Amid the shutdown, states worked to issue February SNAP benefits earlier than usual, relying on a provision in the government budget bill that expired Dec. 21 that allows the federal government to make certain payments up to 30 days after the budget’s end.


Meanwhile, residents who owe documentation to their county social service agency should bring it in as soon as possible so their case can be processed.


Also, county agencies continue to work on the cases of residents who are applying or recertifying for SNAP who did not receive benefits. These residents should check their accounts daily.


“While the successful early payment of the February SNAP benefit is important for New Jersey families, it’s uncertain when the next benefit will be paid so recipients should budget with that in mind,” said Human Services Deputy Commissioner Elisa Neira. “We are also continuing to work with our county partners to ensure that residents who are in the midst of applying for SNAP get the help they need.”


“We continue to monitor this situation and stay in close touch with the federal government as the shutdown continues,” said Natasha Johnson, director of the Department’s Division of Family Development, which administers the state’s SNAP program. “We’re working with the county social service agencies to assist NJ SNAP recipients with any questions they have and provide any help that is needed.”


For more information, recipients can visit www.njsnap.gov

NJ & PA WIN NATIONWIDE INJUNCTION ON BEHALF OF WOMEN’S HEALTH

TRENTON - Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Jan. 14 that New Jersey and Pennsylvania have won a nationwide preliminary injunction in their joint lawsuit to block the rollback of federal rules that protect women’s health by promoting the availability of no-cost contraceptive coverage.


Acting on a motion by the two states, Judge Wendy Beetlestone of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued an order barring the federal government from putting into effect rules that would significantly expand exceptions to Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements for coverage of contraceptive services without cost sharing.


The court issued its decision after concluding that the Trump Administration lacks legal authority to adopt its new rules and that federal agencies likely violated procedural requirements in adopting them.


The ruling applies “across the Nation.” In a separate lawsuit, a federal judge in California blocked the same rules, but that ruling was limited to a smaller number of states. Without the injunction secured by New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the rules would have taken effect Jan. 14.


“Today, a federal judge blocked the latest attempt by the Trump Administration to undermine the promise of the Affordable Care Act by rolling back our residents’ rights to essential preventative healthcare,” said Attorney General Grewal. “The court’s ruling is a significant victory for women’s health. We will keep fighting for New Jersey’s women and working families in court, while the Murphy Administration continues to make strides to improve women’s access to quality health care at the state level.”


As explained in the court’s decision, the Women’s Health Amendment to the ACA mandated that insurance providers cover preventive health services and screenings for women without cost-sharing responsibilities. In 2011, a federal agency, the Health Resources and Services Administration, determined that contraceptive methods were among the preventive care covered by the Women’s Health Amendment.


The Obama Administration established a process for accommodating certain religious employers and other organizations that objected to providing contraceptive coverage for their employees. In rules issued in November 2018, the Trump Administration adopted significantly expanded these exceptions to the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage, prompting a lawsuit by New Jersey and Pennsylvania.


In the ruling, the court agreed that the new rules would harm New Jersey and Pennsylvania financially by permitting “more employers to exempt themselves from the Contraceptive Mandate, which would result in more of the States’ women seeking state-funded sources of contraceptive care.” The court also agreed with the states that the federal government violated the law in issuing the rules.


The court rejected the federal government’s argument that the states should be required to show how many women will lose contraceptive coverage as a result of the rule before the rules can be struck down. “[T]here is no need to wait for the axe to fall before an injunction is appropriate,” the court stated, “particularly where [the federal government has] estimated that it is about to fall on thousands of women.”


In the Jan. 14 ruling, the court issued a nationwide injunction after finding that a narrower order would not give the states “complete relief” and would be “nigh impossible” to enforce. As the court explained, “hundreds of thousands of the States’ citizens travel across state lines…to work for out-of-state entities” and “with their many universities and educational institutes, the States take in tens of thousands of out-of-state students each year.” “An injunction limited to Pennsylvania and New Jersey would, by its terms, not reach Pennsylvania and New Jersey citizens who work for out-of-state employers” or “cover out-of-state students attending school in Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” the court continued.


Led by Massachusetts, 20 states and the District of Columbia filed amicus briefs supporting the preliminary injunction motion by New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A total of 24 women’s advocacy groups, labor organizations and professional associations filed supporting amicus briefs as well.


The organizations supporting New Jersey and Pennsylvania’s lawsuit include: California Women Lawyers; Girls Inc.; If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice; Lawyers Club of San Diego; Service Employees International Union; American Association of University Women; American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees AFL-CIO; American Federation of Teachers; Colorado Women’s Bar Association; National Association of Social Workers; National Association of Women Lawyers; Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia, and the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts. Also providing amicus support were: the National Association for Female Executives; U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce; Physicians for Reproductive Health; American Academy of Nursing; American Academy of Pediatrics; American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology; American Nurses’ Association; National Women’s Law Center; National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; SisterLove Inc., and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.


Assistant Attorney General Glenn J. Moramarco and Deputy Attorneys General Elsepth Faiman Hans and Kimberly A. Cahall are representing the State in this matter.

ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO PRESENTS 2019 COUNTY BUDGET

On Friday, January 11th, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. presented a balanced and responsible 2019 budget of $761.6 million that stabilizes the County’s financial plan and addresses the challenges due to the ongoing national economic conditions. Layoffs have been avoided since 2004 and budgets have been unveiled before the State’s statutory deadline of January 15th for 16 consecutive years.


“Every year we are faced with a variety of challenges that affect our County. By starting our planning process early and presenting our budget by the January 15th statutory deadline, we are able to create a strong groundwork and sound financial plan for our Department and Division Directors and Constitutional Officers to follow throughout the year,” DiVincenzo said. “Presenting our budget by January 15th is important because it gives our municipal partners and constituents a clear snapshot of what to expect from the county,” he noted. The County Executive noted that because of his administration’s conservative budgeting practices and initiatives to identify recurring revenue, Moody’s Investors Services elevated Essex County’s bond rating to Aaa with a Stable Outlook, the highest rating available and the first time Essex has ever attained Aaa status.


The County Executive pointed out that his administration monitors the budget throughout the year and started preparing the 2018 budget in June 2018. Getting an early start enabled Department and Division Directors, Constitutional Officers and County agencies to identify and address issues, investigate ways to reduce expenses and generate new revenue, and have a plan in place by the statutory January 15th deadline. “This rigorous planning and constant vigilance has helped us to respond proactively when we are faced with challenges brought on by the national economy, unexpected events or new laws,” DiVincenzo said.


The 2019 budget proposal maintains the County Executive’s initiative to stabilize the county budget and strengthen the county’s finances. Some highlights include the following:


· Several Essex County facilities continue to generate recurring revenue through shared service agreements with other government agencies. The Essex County Correctional Facility is anticipated to generate $42.7 million in revenue by housing federal inmates, immigration detainees and inmates from Gloucester County; the Essex County Hospital Center is anticipated to generate $18.2 million in revenue through reimbursements from the State for admitting patients from the State, Passaic County and Middlesex County; and the Juvenile Detention Facility is anticipated to generate $3 million by accepting juvenile detainees from Passaic County.


· The Essex County Parks Department is anticipated to generate about $14.2 million in revenue from admissions and user fees.


· $44.5 million in fund balance is being used as revenue in the 2019 budget. In addition, because of savings in the previous budget, the total fund balance is projected to be about $74.6 million. This reserve helps the County respond to emergencies, displays fiscal stability to bond rating agencies and has helped improve the County’s cash flow and avoid taking out Tax Anticipation Notes for the last five years. (When DiVincenzo took office in 2003, the previous administration left a budget deficit of $64 million.)


· Over the last seven years, Essex County has held the increase in property taxes to about 1.5 percent, which is under the state cap of 2.0 percent.


· Over the last 17 years, Essex County has held the increase in property taxes to about 2.38 percent, which is the fifth lowest percentage rate of increase of all New Jersey counties behind Hunterdon, Monmouth, Burlington and Somerset counties.


· In 2007, DiVincenzo implemented an initiative to stabilize the County’s debt service by refinancing existing debt without extending its maturity date and limiting the amount of new debt to a maximum of $20 million annually. In 2019, the debt service payment is $111.6 million, which will be reduced to just $37.3 million in 2026.


In addition, open positions have been unfilled, unless they are essential to public safety and public health operations. This includes positions such as nurses at the Hospital Center or Corrections Officers at the Correctional Facility. Under DiVincenzo’s leadership, over the last 17 years, Essex County’s workforce has been reduced from a high of almost 4,000 employees in 2003 to 3,544 in the 2019 budget proposal.


The DiVincenzo administration has worked hard since 2003 to eliminate the structural budget deficit and ensure that Essex does not spend more than the revenue it collects. Austere budgeting, downsizing the workforce, eliminating unnecessary contracts and conservative spending practices have strengthened Essex County’s financial position, raised its bond rating and restored the County’s fiscal health. Essex’s bond rating has improved 18 times and is now Aaa with a Stable Financial Outlook by Moody’s Investors Services. This is the first time in history that Essex County has earned a “triple A” rating, which is the highest rating available. (The County has a AA-plus rating with Fitch Ratings.)


The 2019 budget proposal has been forwarded to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders for review.

THE WALL BETWEEN TRUMP AND DEMOCRATS

WASHINGTON - In one of the most heated topics of his administration, President Donald Trump took to the national airwaves to gain the public’s support - and Democrats did likewise.


On Jan. 8, Trump spoke to the nation in a 10 minute address about the importance of border security, with his proposed border wall as the centerpiece. While several presidents have spoken to the nation before to garner support for something in the past, this time, members of the opposing party were given airtime to offer a rebuttal. This usually occurs only after a State of the Union address, and not in response to other presidential agendas.


Of course, the main reason why the border wall is such a crucial issue now is because the divide over it has led to a lengthy and burdensome government shutdown in several sectors. Workers have been furloughed, federally supported recreational spots have been shuttered, and if the shutdown continues, tax refunds, food stamps, and even social security payments could be in jeopardy.


For your review, first is Trump’s address to the nation:


“My fellow Americans: Tonight, I am speaking to you because there is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.


“Every day, Customs and Border Patrol agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country. We are out of space to hold them, and we have no way to promptly return them back home to their country.


“America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation. But all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled, illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages. Among those hardest hit are African Americans and Hispanic Americans.


“Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border. More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War.


“In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records, including those charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 violent killings. Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.


“This is a humanitarian crisis - a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.


“Last month, 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the United States - a dramatic increase. These children are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs. One in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico. Women and children are the biggest victims, by far, of our broken system.


“This is the tragic reality of illegal immigration on our southern border. This is the cycle of human suffering that I am determined to end.


“My administration has presented Congress with a detailed proposal to secure the border and stop the criminal gangs, drug smugglers, and human traffickers. It’s a tremendous problem. Our proposal was developed by law enforcement professionals and border agents at the Department of Homeland Security. These are the resources they have requested to properly perform their mission and keep America safe. In fact, safer than ever before.


“The proposal from Homeland Security includes cutting-edge technology for detecting drugs, weapons, illegal contraband, and many other things. We have requested more agents, immigration judges, and bed space to process the sharp rise in unlawful migration fueled by our very strong economy. Our plan also contains an urgent request for humanitarian assistance and medical support.


“Furthermore, we have asked Congress to close border security loopholes so that illegal immigrant children can be safely and humanely returned back home.


“Finally, as part of an overall approach to border security, law enforcement professionals have requested $5.7 billion for a physical barrier. At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It’s also what our professionals at the border want and need. This is just common sense.


“The border wall would very quickly pay for itself. The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year - vastly more than the $5.7 billion we have requested from Congress. The wall will also be paid for, indirectly, by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.


“Senator Chuck Schumer - who you will be hearing from later tonight - has repeatedly supported a physical barrier in the past, along with many other Democrats. They changed their mind only after I was elected President.


“Democrats in Congress have refused to acknowledge the crisis. And they have refused to provide our brave border agents with the tools they desperately need to protect our families and our nation.


“The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only: because Democrats will not fund border security.


“My administration is doing everything in our power to help those impacted by the situation. But the only solution is for Democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders and re-opens the government.


“This situation could be solved in a 45-minute meeting. I have invited Congressional leadership to the White House tomorrow to get this done. Hopefully, we can rise above partisan politics in order to support national security.


“Some have suggested a barrier is immoral. Then why do wealthy politicians build walls, fences, and gates around their homes? They don’t build walls because they hate the people on the outside, but because they love the people on the inside. The only thing that is immoral is the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized.


“America’s heart broke the day after Christmas when a young police officer in California was savagely murdered in cold blood by an illegal alien, who just came across the border. The life of an American hero was stolen by someone who had no right to be in our country.


“Day after day, precious lives are cut short by those who have violated our borders. In California, an Air Force veteran was raped, murdered, and beaten to death with a hammer by an illegal alien with a long criminal history. In Georgia, an illegal alien was recently charged with murder for killing, beheading, and dismembering his neighbor. In Maryland, MS-13 gang members who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors were arrested and charged last year after viciously stabbing and beating a 16-year-old girl.


“Over the last several years, I’ve met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I’ve held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible. I will never forget the pain in their eyes, the tremble in their voices, and the sadness gripping their souls.


“How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?


“To those who refuse to compromise in the name of border security, I would ask: Imagine if it was your child, your husband, or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken?


“To every member of Congress: Pass a bill that ends this crisis. To every citizen: Call Congress and tell them to finally, after all of these decades, secure our border.


“This is a choice between right and wrong, justice and injustice. This is about whether we fulfill our sacred duty to the American citizens we serve.


“When I took the Oath of Office, I swore to protect our country. And that is what I will always do, so help me God. Thank you and goodnight.”


Now for your review, here is the response from House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) delivered moments later.


Pelosi: “I appreciate the opportunity to speak directly to the American people tonight about how we can end this shutdown and meet the needs of the American people. Sadly, much of what we have heard from President Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation and even malice. The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts.


“The fact is, on the very first day of this Congress, House Democrats passed Senate Republican legislation to reopen government and fund smart, effective border security solutions. But the president is rejecting these bipartisan bills, which would reopen government over his obsession with forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall - a wall he always promised Mexico would pay for.


“The fact is, President Trump has chosen to hold hostage critical services for the health, safety and well-being of the American people and withhold the paychecks of 800,000 innocent workers across the nation - many of them veterans. He promised to keep government shutdown for ‘months or years’ - no matter whom it hurts. That’s just plain wrong.


“The fact is, we all agree that we need to secure our borders, while honoring our values. We can build the infrastructure and roads at our ports of entry; we can install new technology to scan cars and trucks for drugs coming into our nation; we can hire the personnel we need to facilitate trade and immigration at the border; and we can fund more innovation to detect unauthorized crossings.


“The fact is the women and children at the border are not a security threat, they are a humanitarian challenge - a challenge that President Trump’s own cruel and counterproductive policies have only deepened.


“And the fact is, President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis and must reopen the government. Thank you.”


Schumer: “My fellow Americans, we address you tonight for one reason only: the president of the United States - having failed to get Mexico to pay for his ineffective, unnecessary border wall, and unable to convince the Congress or the American people to foot the bill - has shut down the government. American democracy doesn’t work that way. We don’t govern by temper tantrum. No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down, hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage.


“Tonight - and throughout this debate and throughout his presidency - President Trump has appealed to fear, not facts; division, not unity. Make no mistake: Democrats and the president both want stronger border security. However, we sharply disagree with the president about the most effective way to do it. 


“So, how do we untangle this mess? There is an obvious solution: separate the shutdown from the arguments over border security. 


“There is bipartisan legislation - supported by Democrats and Republicans - to reopen government while allowing debate over border security to continue.


“There is no excuse for hurting millions of Americans over a policy difference. Federal workers are about to miss a paycheck. Some families can’t get a mortgage to buy a new home. Farmers and small businesses won’t get loans they desperately need. Most presidents have used Oval Office addresses for noble purposes. This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear, and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.


“My fellow Americans, there is no challenge so great that our nation cannot rise to meet it. We can reopen the government and continue to work through disagreements over policy. We can secure our border without an ineffective, expensive wall. And we can welcome legal immigrants and refugees, without compromising safety and security. The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall. 


“So, our suggestion is a simple one. Mr. President, reopen the government and we can work to resolve our differences over border security. But end this shutdown now. Thank you.” 

OUTGOING TENNESSEE GOVERNOR GRANTS EXECUTIVE CLEMENCY TO CYNTOIA BROWN

NASHVILLE - On Jan. 7, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam granted executive clemency to Cyntoia Denise Brown by commuting her sentence of life imprisonment. She will be released to parole supervision on August 7, 2019, after serving 15 years in prison.


“This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” Haslam said. “Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life. Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”


Brown’s parole conditions will require that she not violate any state or federal laws, and she will be subject to a release plan approved by the Tennessee Department of Correction and special supervision conditions, including employment, education, counseling, and community engagement requirements. Parole supervision will continue until August 7, 2029, at which point Brown’s sentence will expire. She will complete re-entry programming prior to her release from custody in August in order to facilitate a successful transition to the community.


In 2006, Brown was convicted by a Davidson County jury of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery for the 2004 murder of 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent Johnny Allen, which occurred when then-16-year-old Brown was picked up by Allen and taken to his home. She received a life sentence with the possibility of parole after serving a minimum of 51 years in prison, which means she would not have been eligible for parole consideration until 2055, at the earliest, without the governor’s action.


While in prison, Brown has earned her GED and completed an associate degree in 2015 through the Lipscomb LIFE program with a 4.0 GPA. It is anticipated that she will complete a bachelor’s degree in 2019. Numerous Department of Correction employees and volunteers attest to her extraordinary personal transformation while incarcerated, which will allow her to be a positive influence on the community upon release.


Earlier this year, the Tennessee Board of Parole issued a positive recommendation to the governor in favor of granting Brown a commutation.


“While we have spent a considerable amount of time studying and implementing sentencing and criminal justice reform in our state, there is more work to be done,” Haslam said. “I am hopeful serious consideration of additional reforms will continue, especially with respect to the sentencing of juveniles.”


Executive clemency is an act of mercy or leniency by the governor after a criminal conviction. Haslam has previously granted five commutations, 15 pardons, and one exoneration. Haslam continues to review and consider additional clemency requests.

THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN IS…

UPDATE: ON - Since one minute after 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 21, 2018.


WASHINGTON - By now, you know the story. President Donald Trump is not budging on his demand of $5 billion for a border wall. Democrats are not budging on their stance to not fund the wall.


On Dec. 20, the House of Representatives - which is still controlled by the GOP until Jan. 2019 - passed legislation that allocated the requested $5 billion. However, it is likely to fail in the Senate.


In what some call a “tweetstorm” Trump took to the Twitter platform, posting, “The Democrats, whose votes we need in the Senate, will probably vote against Border Security and the Wall even though they know it is DESPERATELY NEEDED. If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time. People don’t want Open Borders and Crime! …


“Shutdown today if Democrats do not vote for Border Security! … The Democrats now own the shutdown!”


Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer quickly shifted the blame to Trump, tweeting, “President Trump is plunging us into chaos. The stock market is down 500 points. Secretary Mattis is leaving. We know he had serious disagreements with President Trump over Syria and the wall. And now, another temper tantrum and a Trump shutdown over Christmas is nearly upon us…


“You own the shutdown - your own words, @realDonaldTrump. The Senate UNANIMOUSLY passed a bipartisan solution to avoid a shutdown. Then you threw another temper tantrum and convinced the House to ignore that compromise. #TrumpShutdown”