By: (NJ Spotlight News)
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Affordability has become a buzzword in Trenton recently, but for one in four New Jersey veterans — and nearly one in three black vets — it’s a daily reality. Disabled veterans are more likely to face financial hardship.

A report released Friday by United for ALICE, the research arm of the United Way of Northern New Jersey, found that 24% of New Jersey almost 295 thousand veterans were below the federal poverty line or had difficulty paying for housing, child care, or food. These are almost 72,000 people — including 600 homeless people — more than half of whom are over 65 years old.

The findings are based on data from 2019, and the researchers said the situation has only gotten worse since the COVID-19 pandemic, underscoring the need to do more to help veterans.

“Our freedom comes with a responsibility to ensure that those who have served and sacrificed cannot make ends meet when they return home,” said Kieran Handa Gaudioza, CEO of United Way of Northern New Jersey, which serves Morris, Sussex, Somerset, Warren and parts of suburban Essex. “While veterans have additional support that non-veterans do not, it is clear that there is still room for improvement.”

A new study shows that veterans are more likely to be economically stable than those who have not served in the armed forces across the country, which researchers attribute to the safety net programs that are in place for them. And the New Jersey vets fared better than the vets throughout the country27% of which cannot easily cover their expenses, according to the report.

“It looks like the veterans are doing well,” said Stephanie Hoopes, who launched the ALICE study in Morris County 15 years ago and now oversees work throughout the country. “The picture is not always square.”

Updated poverty line for New Jersey

While many studies use the federal poverty line, Hoopes said the 60-year-old formula used to set that level — or $26,500 for a family of four in 2022 — is outdated and inadequate. The ALICE metric, which is regularly re-evaluated and designed to account for the working poor, may better illustrate the true extent of economic instability, she said.

In 2019, that national poverty line was $25,750 for a family of four, according to the report, while ALICE put the threshold at just under $88,000 for New Jersey. “This is the bare minimum necessary to live and work in today’s economy,” Hoops said.

The latest report shows that 4% of New Jersey veterans — more than 13,000 people — were below the poverty line in 2019, but five times as many were below the ALICE threshold. About six in 10 struggling vets owned a home, but it was expensive; half of these veterans spend at least 35% of their income on mortgages, utilities and taxes, the highest rate in the nation. About 64% of older renters here are also struggling, the third-highest percentage in the country, according to the report.

Despite the financial benefits of homeownership, “we still find older homeowners who are struggling,” Hoopes said.

More than 12,000 of those economically stressed vets were working full-time or part-time, the report said, and thousands more are looking for work. Education is also a factor, the researchers found, with nearly two-thirds of New Jersey vets with a high school diploma or less experiencing financial instability in 2019.

“With our freedom comes a responsibility to ensure that those who have served and sacrificed are not struggling to make ends meet when they return home.” — Kieran Handa Gaudioza, CEO of United Way of Northern New Jersey

According to the data, the armed forces are increasingly diverse, and in 2019 New Jersey veterans were 76% white, 14% black and 8% Hispanic, with less than 2% Asian or other race. But financial hardship is more likely to affect people of color, with 32% of black and 29% of Hispanic veterans below the ALICE threshold, compared with 23% and 21% for whites and Asians, respectively. More than nine out of 10 New Jersey veterans are men, according to the report.

Disability is also an important factor

The report found that disabled veterans were more likely to experience economic hardship than their peers, especially if they were black or Hispanic. More than one-quarter of all New Jersey vets reported some form of disability, and 30% of these individuals scored below the ALICE score, compared to 22% of veterans without functional limitations. The report also found that 48% of non-veterans with disabilities struggled, suggesting that support services for those who have served have some benefit.

This aspect of the study was also informed by a previous ALICE study on people with disabilities published earlier this year, Hoopes said. “We were really impressed by the driver who is struggling financially,” she said.

Despite the widespread availability of health insurance for veterans — through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Medicaid when they turn 65 — and other social services, researchers said the ALICE findings show more is needed to help those who have served. to our people.

Easing access to existing programs, many of which have complicated qualification requirements, would also be helpful, they said. According to the survey, only 13% of struggling New Jersey vets participated in federal and state food stamp programs in 2019, and 60% lack regular access to high-speed Internet, a critical tool for applying for government programs.

Helping struggling veterans could also benefit other economically disadvantaged New Jerseyans, the report explains.

“Veterans have higher rates of full-time employment, are more likely to be homeowners and have more comprehensive health insurance and disability benefits,” Hoopes said. “This suggests that the support provided to veterans matters and can provide invaluable information for developing strategies that help non-veterans facing financial hardship.”

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