SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - About 120 clients, family members, friends, staff, and allies of JESPY House, a community-based nonprofit serving adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, met with Gubernatorial Candidate Phil Murphy on October 31 to ask questions and to discuss concerns about recent policy changes in Trenton that adversely impact adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.

The Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) recently transitioned from a contract-based (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, explained JESPY House Board Member Dr. Ahadi Bugg-Levine.

Audrey Winkler, Executive Directory of JESPY House, talked about the strength of the JESPY family, and about the challenges they faced when advocating to keep their family intact. “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. These policies threaten our clients’ independence and the lives that they have built in South Orange," said Winkler

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Murphy listened to JESPY client concerns about what the cuts would mean for them in the future.  One JESPY House client, Debbie, 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, asked: “I don’t want to live with my mother. I’m 32 years old. I want my independence. So, how can you help us?” She then declared: “Because I have goals!”

Essex County Freeholder President, Britnee Timberlake echoed the JESPY clients comments: ““Ambassador, housing is something that is needed.” She stressed the importance of exploring options such as affordable housing trust funds. Such options would allow “JESPY clients to continue to live independently," said Timberlake.

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.

Murphy quipped: “New Jersey is the poster child for money that you thought you had that got spent somewhere else.”

Winkler commented that JESPY House and adults with disabilities were not asking New Jersey to spend additional money. She said: “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.”

Winkler continued, “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.”  She added: “Our clients work. They are incredibly productive members of society.”

Denise Rekem, a special needs attorney and JESPY House Board Member, thanked Murphy for caring about people with disabilities, noting, “You have had a long history of supporting people with developmental disabilities. This is not just something that you’re coming to on the eve of a campaign. This is something that you care passionately about and I appreciate that.”

JESPY House stated that they invited both Gubernatorial candidates Murphy and Guadagno to speak with the JESPY House community to help the candidates learn more about the pressing needs of adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and about the impact of recent cuts and policy changes. 

Winkler said she was grateful that Murphy accepted her invitation to visit JESPY House and commented: “We need advocates, leaders and decision makers that will continue to work with JESPY House to develop quality and sustainable policies affecting adults with disabilities in New Jersey.” 

JESPY House is funded about 40% with state and federal funds with the other 60% raised from other sources.