Not one lawmaker voted against it, but a bill aimed at increasing financial literacy in some of New Jersey's poorest communities has been waiting for action from Gov. Phil Murphy since late June.

The measure, which establishes a three-year pilot run of "financial empowerment centers" in certain towns, would use funding the state received in a 2019 settlement of complaints against Equifax following a data breach that affected millions of New Jersey residents.

Should the legislation become law, the pilot program would contract a non-profit provider to establish an empowerment center in Camden, New Brunswick, Newark, Paterson and Trenton, in locations that are easily accessible to residents. The centers would facilitate forums, programs or initiatives designed to educate the public regarding financial literacy, and provide coaching to "economically vulnerable individuals."

"With such challenging times upon us, the ability to make informed decisions regarding our finances is more important than ever," said Ralph Albert Thomas, CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Society of CPAs, which is encouraging Murphy to sign the legislation. "We believe many adults — especially those who live in underprivileged communities — could benefit from the program’s focus on bank accounts, credit scores, decreasing non-mortgage debt and increasing savings."

Following conclusion of the pilot program, the legislation states, a report would be issued to the Department of Community Affairs, which would then submit a report to the governor about the effectiveness of the program. The report would include a recommendation about whether the program can be extended and expanded.

"By providing centers like this, we can hopefully help elevate individuals in challenged areas, as I would call them," Thomas said.

The Democrat-sponsored measure was approved unanimously by the full Assembly in March and unanimously by the full Senate in June.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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