Latinas in Business President and CEO Susana G Bauman recently spoke with Elisa Neira who serves as the Deputy Commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Human Services as part of a new webcast series.
As Deputy Commissioner, Elisa Neira oversees the Division of Family Development, the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Division of Disability Services, and the Office of New Americans.
Elisa discussed a few of the ways the New Jersey Department of Human Services is working to help immigrants in the state of New Jersey through resources, programs, and the formation of the Office New Americans (ONA).
The ONA seeks to increase accessibility to State programs available to new Americans, including those who speak languages other than English, through outreach and education and serves as a resource for other state agencies to amplify education and outreach on state initiatives and programs.
“The governor tasked us to establish an Office of New Americans with the purpose of really identifying state solutions as to how immigrants can participate and benefit from the many resources in our state, how can we look at what barriers exist for people who may be who can benefit from some of the state resources but are not aware of them, or for whatever reason, may not understand eligibility, for example,” said Elisa.
As a top gateway state receiving new immigrants every year, New Jersey is one of the most diverse states with a large multicultural population. About a quarter of New Jersey’s population of 10 million are foreign-born immigrants. The hopes are to reach this diverse population and aid them in attaining accessible government resources and services.
“We have a very diverse population, which means that we’re diverse, culturally, and also linguistically. The language access needs in our state are really great.”
Addressing these cultural and linguistic barriers is crucial to making resources and programs accessible. Many immigrants miss opportunities due to barriers and miscommunication. ONA hopes to improve access to social services, workforce development and employment services, and legal services for immigrants by addressing these barriers.
“We’ve done a lot of work in understanding the demographics and where the gaps are in getting information to people. One of our goals is really to look at language access and figure out how we can develop plans to really improve the communication that we have with residents of our state who are non-English speakers.”
Listen to the whole conversation
Excluded New Jerseyans Fund
In her talk with Susana, Elisa spoke on one Department of Human Services program: the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund. This fund is a federally funded COVID relief program available to those who were excluded from federal COVID relief and are in households with incomes of $55,000 or less impacted by COVID-19.
“We were able to create this fund specifically for those individuals in our communities who, for several reasons, were not eligible for the federal stimulus checks that the many Americans were able to have during a time where maybe their income was reduced, or they lost income or became ill because of COVID,” said Elisa.
The program, which launched in late October, has been funded with a combination of Coronavirus Relief Funds, which expired on December 31, and American Rescue Plan funds, which continue to be available. The ARP funds allocated made it possible for the program to continue to accept applications after December 31. Currently, the program has available funds to fund eligible applications until January 31 adequately. Anyone who has applied for the ENJF and approved should know that they will receive their benefits. Benefit payments go out to approved applicants on a weekly basis.
The Department hired six community-based organizations (CBOs) to review applications, determine eligibility and provide program outreach, education, and support.
The CBOs were tasked specifically with processing applications, which included following up with applicants needing more information to complete their applications and reach an eligibility determination. Documentation demonstrating COVID-impact was required because of specific federal parameters placed on the use of CRF funds. The Department provided training, materials, and resources for the reviewers under contract and met with them daily/weekly to support their application review process.
Additionally, advocates for this program were integral to the design and administration of the program and their implementation recommendations were considered from the very beginning. Given the visibility of this program, several stakeholders and other service providers across the state of New Jersey have also done their own independent outreach and support for their clients even if they were not a part of the RFP process as they found it important to support members of their communities.
“So many New Jerseyans, particularly undocumented individuals, were not eligible for these federal stimulus checks. They were also not eligible for pandemic unemployment assistance. So this fund is specifically to help those households, those families, those parents who were impacted by COVID, but did not receive these other federal aid that was available to other people.
It’s a one time assistance between 1000 to $2,000. The applications are open. The information is available on our website ExcludedNJfund.nj.gov. And we’re really encouraging people who meet this criteria to put in an application so we can get them the help that they need.”
Additional Exclude NJ resources:
In a statement from Office of New Americans Director Johanna Calle clarified that DHS did not reallocate the remaining $34 million in CARES funding. Individuals are encouraged to refer to the Governor’s Office with additional questions regarding the remaining funds. Latinas in Business will follow up on this news.