SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — JESPY House, a community-based nonprofit serving adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, hosted Governor-elect Phil Murphy, who was at the time still on the campaign trail, on Tuesday, Oct. 31.
Approximately 120 clients, family members, friends, staff and allies welcomed Murphy so that they could discuss their concerns about recent policy changes in Trenton that affect adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. The Division of Developmental Disabilities recently transitioned from a contract-based system with full reimbursement to a fee-for-service-based partial-reimbursement system for the disbursement of Medicaid dollars. These cuts affect the quality of services and negatively impact smaller service providers.
“During the past few months, recent cuts and changes in Trenton have threatened members of our family and we have all worked together to fight back against them,” JESPY House Executive Director Audrey Winkler said. “These policies threaten our clients’ independence and the lives that they have built in South Orange.”
Murphy listened intently as clients discussed their concerns about what the cuts would mean for them in the future. Debbie, a JESPY House client, said: ““I need help. Where am I going to live if I don’t have JESPY? I have been here 27 years and it’s been a blessing. I’d like help for disabled people so we can live in our apartments and we can stay in our JESPY community.”
Sadie, another JESPY client, told Murphy: “I don’t want to live with my mother. I’m 32 years old. I want my independence. So, how can you help us? Because I have goals!”
Murphy recognized that while New Jersey has fiscal limitations, it also had to re-prioritize and begin caring again for the most vulnerable people in the state. One audience member argued that New Jersey was supposed to receive increased federal funds to help people with disabilities, but that additional money never seemed to make it to the intended group of people.
“New Jersey is the poster child for money that you thought you had that got spent somewhere else,” Murphy said wryly.
Winkler commented that JESPY House and adults with disabilities were not asking New Jersey to spend additional money. “We’ve been working with DDD for over a year now. It’s really about reallocation. It’s about priorities. It’s not about asking for more money,” she said. “Quite frankly, our higher functioning clients are being penalized by the system because that’s the policy that was in place. That’s a problem. Our clients work. They are incredibly productive members of society.”