SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — JESPY House welcomed U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. and Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey on Monday, May 8, to discuss imminent N.J. health care changes, housing and other critical issues. One hundred constituents and voters from the JESPY community and surrounding areas listened to Payne and Jasey’s positions on the issues, asked questions and discussed their concerns.
JESPY House is a community-based nonprofit in South Orange that helps more than 250 clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities to lead independent lives.
“We invited the congressman and assemblywoman to hear our concerns about upcoming changes to the Division of Developmental Disabilities benefits. We wanted our representatives to learn about how these changes will impact our community directly from us — clients, staff, family members, board members and allies,” JESPY Executive Director Audrey Winkler said in a press release. “Medicaid Fee-For-Service will drastically cut our reimbursement rates starting in July. This will jeopardize our financial sustainability and impact our clients’ access to vital services including daily living skills training, work readiness coaching, clinical and behavioral supports, residential housing, transportation, and more. While we are strategically looking at other revenue sources, our community is concerned and upset and wants to protect our clients’ rights to live independently.”
According to the release, during the discussion with Payne and Jasey, client after client shared how much they loved being part of the JESPY community because it allowed them to live independently.
“I’ve been here for 15 or 16 years. I’m on DDD. I’m worried,” one client said at the event. “If I have to leave JESPY, it’s going to be a complete nightmare. I don’t know where I would go. I’m very successful here.”
Jasey responded to the numerous questions about DDD benefits.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions in our committees through legislation that’s been proposed to not only protect our constituents with disabilities, but also to improve conditions. It has been a battle,” Jasey said, according to the release. “We’re fighting about the budget right now. This will be one of many battles that we will continue to advocate for.”
A mother followed up about her concerns regarding eroding DDD benefits. She passionately spoke about her son’s desire to live independently and the challenges that the current funding system places in front of him.
“He asks on a daily basis: ‘When can I live in South Orange? When can I live in JESPY?’” the mother said at the event. “They don’t prefer to live at home. They’re forced to live at home. There is no DDD program to enable him to do so.”
Clients also shared their fears about how the American Health Care Act, recently passed by the House of Representatives, would negatively affect their lives as people with pre-existing conditions.
“It’s the obligation of the federal government to make sure that these funds stay intact. People can’t afford any more cuts,” Payne said, according to the release. “We continue to fight to make sure that legislators and our colleagues understand that we cannot afford for people in our district and our state to have those cuts. It just would be negative and counterproductive. We continue to fight to make sure that levels stay where they are.”
The JESPY House community has been meeting with state and federal legislators to raise awareness about the upcoming Medicaid and DDD cuts, according to the release. They seek support that will help them stave off cuts or identify possible government funds to allow them to transition to the new Medicaid FFS reimbursement structure.
“We are a family here at JESPY,” Winkler said. “We don’t want state cuts to make it financially burdensome for any of our clients to stay. We will continue to speak out about our family’s desire to remain integrated in the South Orange community and live independently. This is home.”