TRENTON, NJ -- Leading voices for New Jerseyans with disabilities are speaking up to ensure that plans are in place to protect these vulnerable individuals in emergencies, and as the State is facing economic challenges because of the coronavirus. 

Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) is pushing legislation to ensure care providers that serve New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities are prepared for public emergencies by creating state emergency response plans. 

The measure, (A-4138), would require the Department of Human Services, in consultation with the Department of Health, the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families, and the State Office of Emergency Management in the Department of Law and Public Safety, to develop and oversee implementation of a public emergency response plan for licensed providers serving individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. 

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“Providers that serve individuals with developmental disabilities face unique challenges in combating the spread of COVID-19,” said Benson. “Social distancing, wearing face coverings and frequent hand-washing may be more difficult for people with sensory, cognitive or physical impairments. That’s why it’s so important for providers to have a plan in place to guide residents in practicing these standard precautions.”

A public emergency response plan would at least: 

  • Establish guidelines and best practices for operations, activities and procedures;
  • Identify means, methods and channels so they may obtain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other resources necessary to operate and provide services during a public emergency;
  • Address various possible emergency scenarios and provide appropriate best practices to handle different types of public emergencies, and; 
  •  Be consistent with and incorporate any guidance published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and any other federal agencies involved in the remediation of public emergencies.

The emergency plan that would be posted online would be reviewed on a biennial basis and as soon as possible following the declaration of a public emergency. 

The measure passed the full Assembly unanimously. 

Meanwhile, a coalition of advocates for individuals with disabilities is calling for the preservation of funding for state agencies that provide essential services for New Jerseyans living with disabilities must be fully preserved in FY2021.

The coalition, which consists of: The Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities (ABCD); The Arc of NJ; New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA); The New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities  (NJCDD); and The Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey (SHA) sid that more than two million New Jerseyans living with disabilities and their families are counting on the state to do the right thing and protect funding in FY2021. 

"There can be no cuts to services and supports that enable residents with disabilities to live healthy, stable and fulfilling lives in New Jersey’s communities. The well-being of the state's most vulnerable citizens cannot be jeopardized in order to address the state's budget shortfall brought about by the pandemic: cuts to services now only saves money in the short term and will likely result in increased institutional need long term."

The coalition noted that individuals with disabilities and their families are already more likely to experience housing, food, and economic insecurity.

Even with modest funding increases from the State in recent years for providers serving children and adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities and/or behavioral and mental health issues, funding has failed to keep pace with rising costs associated with delivering life-sustaining services and maintaining adequate staffing. The financial fragility of service organizations has been compounded by the pandemic with added costs for staffing, personal protective equipment and enhanced cleaning protocols required to keep everyone safe.

"Any cut in funding, especially now, would have a devastating impact on residents with disabilities, their families and the communities they live in. 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline to finalize and enact a state budget for Fiscal Year 2021 is now September 30. 

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