State Budget Highlights for Children and Families
Governor Christie unveiled his proposed FY 2018 budget on Tuesday, February 28. Details are still sparse and will emerge in the coming weeks. The budget will be debated in the state Legislature over the next few months and a final budget must be adopted by June 30. Changes could occur during that time. We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.
Here is what we know so far:
State Aid to Schools
The Governor recommended a small increase (0.2 percent) for direct state aid for schools bringing the total amount to $9.2 billion. Direct school aid represents approximately 26 percent of the $35.5 billion proposed budget. Formula aid remains at the FY 2017 level ($7.9 billion). While Governor Christie did not recommend any direct changes to the formula at this time, he strongly urged the legislature to work with him to create a new funding formula within 100 days.
While some previous budget proposals have included increased funding for districts with state-supported preschool programs, the FY 2018 recommendation does not. Preschool funding remains at the same level as FY 2016 and FY 2017: $655.5 million.
New Jersey school districts continue to receive additional federal funding to feed breakfast to hungry students. Actual FY 2016 federal revenues received were $94.5 million – an increase of 16 percent from FY 2015 when revenues were $82.6 million. The budget estimates FY 2017 revenues will be $98 million, while FY 2018 revenues are projected to be $105 million.
This is the result of schools serving more children that all-important morning meal. ACNJ has led the NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign, which has succeeded in convincing more districts to serve breakfast during the first few minutes of the school day, rather than before school when students have not yet arrived. Actual federal revenues increased by 104 percent since the campaign began in 2010.
Known as “breakfast after the bell,” this approach significantly increases student participation in this federally-funded child nutrition program. This is great news for New Jersey students, schools and the communities they serve. And it means that New Jersey is bringing back more of the federal dollars we already send to Washington, while addressing childhood hunger -- a major barrier to learning.
The proposed budget continues the expansion of Medicaid for certain parents/caretakers and single adults without children, ages 19 to 64 under NJ FamilyCare. Since the expansion took effect on January 1, 2014, 487,000 low-income residents have gained health insurance through NJ FamilyCare (including Medicaid enrollment). The FY 2018 budget estimates monthly enrollment (adults and children) at 1,804,507 – a two percent increase over FY 2017 average monthly enrollment (1,770,366). The budget assumes no reductions in federal health care funding.
Earned Income Tax Credit
The governor’s budget provides for an increase in the EITC from 30% to 35% of the federal benefit amount beginning in tax year 2016. This increase follows an increase from 20% to 30% in 2015. The credit for an average working family is projected to rise to approximately $800.
Mental Health/Addiction Services
Governor Christie’s recently announced addiction initiatives include expansion of the Department of Children and Families’ residential services for 18- and 19-year-olds who are struggling with substance use. In addition, the FY 2018 budget recommendation provides $1.5 million in funding for on-campus housing for college students in recovery. This program provides students with a sober environment, counseling and additional supports, all of which are useful tools in the life-long battle to maintain sobriety.
Lead Regulations and Testing
The FY 2018 budget recommends $10 million in additional State funding to meet the funding needs required by new regulations to identify elevated blood-lead levels in children consistent with those of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The FY 2017 budget provided $10 million to reimburse school districts for costs related to lead testing between July 13, 2016, and July 13, 2017. While this appropriation is not continued in FY 2018, school districts that tested their water during that time period can continue to seek reimbursement in FY 2018 from unexpended fiscal 2017 balances.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey will continue to comb budget documents for more details as they are issued. The schedule and registration for Senate and Assembly Budget Hearings is on the NJ Legislature website.
Please be on the lookout for future updates and opportunities to influence the budget process.