SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The residents of JESPY House in Maplewood were visited last Monday Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. and Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey to discuss imminent healthcare changes, housing and other critical issues.
About 100 members of the JESPY and South Orange community attended the meeting, where they were able to hear Payne’s and Jasey's positions on the issues, ask questions and discuss their concerns.
JESPY House, a community-based nonprofit on Prospect Street in downtown South Orange, helps more than 250 clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities to lead independent lives. Wayne Branch, Athletic Coordinator of JESPY House, oversees the overall athletic program, which he explained "helps with the quality of life for our clients," adding that many have become involved with the Special Olympics.
Ron Brandt, the incoming President of the JESPY House Board of Trustees, shared that after he saw the great work being done there, he became a member of the Board of Trustees. "We have a wonderful staff working with our clients. We have 250 clients in a very diversified program," said Brandt.
JESPY's Executive Director Audrey Winkler explained that they invited Payne and Jasey so they could hear concerns about upcoming changes to the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) 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," said Winkler.
"Medicaid Fee-For-Service (FFS) will drastically cut our reimbursement rates starting in July," Winkler claimed. "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.”
One of the comments that was repeated during the discussion period by multiple JESPY residents was how much it meant to them to live independently as part of the JESPY community.
One client voiced their concerns about upcoming changes that would be detrimental to JESPY's funding, saying “I’ve been here for 15 or 16 years. I’m on DDD. I’m worried. 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.”
“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," said Jasey in response to the numerous questions about DDD benefits.
In addition to JESPY residents, other members of the community participated as well. One mother shared her son’s desire to live independently, explaining "He asks on a daily basis ‘When can I live in South Orange? When can I live in JESPY?’”
“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,” she added.
Payne, a Democrat, responded to questions about how the recent passage of the American Health Care Act by the House of Representatives would impact them, stating, "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 counter productive. We continue to fight to make sure that levels stay where they are.”
The JESPY House community is seeking support that will help them stave off possible 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. 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," said Winkler.