Senate Panel Advances Bills to Boost Cash Payments to Poor Families

New Jersey's poorest families could receive additional cash assistance under proposals intended to update the state's welfare program, a system critics contend is dangerously out of date and fails to reach nine out of 10 children in need.

The Senate health committee advanced legislation on Monday, with bipartisan support, to increase the monthly cash payments for families by 10 percent a year over the next three years; if approved, it would be the first raise in more than 30 years.

The panel also OK'd a bill to eliminate "family caps" on welfare payments, which call for payments based on income level, regardless of the number of children a parent may be supporting. Critics said the provision, designed to ensure women were not financially rewarded for having children, only exacerbated poverty and failed to limit family size.

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