Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Cleopatra Tucker, Pamela Lampitt, Gordon Johnson and Joseph Danielsen to assist with the cost of housing modification for veterans was advanced by an Assembly panel on Thursday.
"New Jersey has a moral obligation to honor the sacrifices veterans have made by facilitating their transition to civilian life," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "Just as no veteran ought to be homeless, no one who served this country should live in a home that makes everyday tasks a struggle."
The bill (A-306), the "New Jersey Housing Assistance for Veterans Act," would establish a five-year pilot program to issue grants to assist disabled and low-income veterans with housing modification and rehabilitation. The bill would appropriate $5 million for the program.
Grant funding may be used, for example, to install wheelchair ramps, re-equip bathrooms to enhance accessibility or install energy efficient equipment that would reduce utility costs.
"Veterans voluntarily put their well-being on the line out of sheer love of country," said Tucker (D-Essex), chair of the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. "This pilot program will help cover the cost of installing ramps and grab bars that can help returning veterans live comfortably in their homes."
"New Jersey's veterans need not just housing, but adequate, accessible housing," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "Allocating funds for home modification will give veterans one less thing to worry about when they come back home."
"We must support our residents who have served in the United States military," said Johnson (D-Bergen), a former Army reservist. "While we never can repay these men and women for their dedication to this country, we can - and should - take steps to ensure that they can live independently."
"At the very least, those who were willing to give their lives for this country should be able to get around their own homes without a struggle," said Danielsen (D-Middlesex/Somerset), a former Army reservist. "Anything the state of New Jersey can do to make veterans' lives easier is a worthy endeavor."
Organizations that employ workers participating in the Helmets to Hardhats Program, which connects military service members with training and career opportunities in the construction industry, would receive preference for grants.
No single organization may be awarded more than $400,000 in any fiscal year under the legislation. Entities receiving a grant would have to contribute a 50 percent match through either cash or in-kind contributions.
Under the bill, the director of the Division of Housing and Community Resources in the Department of Community Affairs would provide an annual assessment of the pilot program to the governor and the legislature.
The measure was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.