Report: NJ Lags Nation for Disabled Residents in Community Settings

Source: NJ Spotlight Health

The Case for Inclusion Report for 2019, compiled by United Cerebral Palsy and the ANCOR Foundation, which represents caregivers, ranked New Jersey as 38th nationwide for how its Medicaid system serves individuals with disabilities and their families — down from 34th in the last report issued in 2016.

The report — which rates states in promoting independence; tracking health, safety and life quality; keeping families together; promoting productivity; and reaching those in need — is designed to help advocates and policymakers identify best practices and improve outcomes.

The 2019 report, which reflects ANCOR’s involvement for the first time, also underscores the critical role played by direct-support professionals, (DSPs), who care for individuals with disabilities. The field is plagued by high turnover, with only 40 percent of employees nationwide lasting longer than a year. DSP’s low wages barely rival the pay at fast-food restaurants, a situation that has caused growing concern in New Jersey.

Leaders at the New Jersey Department of Human Services, which oversees programs that serve nearly 22,000 individuals with disabilities and their families, said the state has made progress improve these services. And in October, state officials committed an extra $32 million to salaries for DSPs, resulting in an average wage hike of about 4.5 percent, the DHS said.

Among other things, the department has stepped up oversight as a result of a new law designed to better protect residents of group homes and has created a council to help individuals with disabilities more effectively advocate for services, In addition, the state launched NJ ABLE this past spring, a tax-free savings program to help qualified individuals with disabilities collect funds to cover costs related to their condition, without making them ineligible for Medicaid or other government assistance.

The groups found that half as many people live in large, less-personal settings now as did a decade ago, and spending on home and community-based services has more than doubled. But the authors said more work is needed to ensure these citizens lead lives that are as independent and fulfilling as possible.

With five existing state-run residential centers for individuals with disabilities, which house more than 1,400 in all, New Jersey remains near the bottom of the pack for the low percentage of these citizens living in community settings. New Jersey is also among 18 states that do not meet what advocates call ta standard in which 80 percent of residents with disabilities receive community-based services and 80 percent of the funding is directed to these programs. And 11 percent of this population is engaged in meaningful daily work, in jobs with non-disabled colleagues, compared with 19 percent nationwide.

On the bright side, the Garden State has a relatively short waiting list for residential options (around 3,200 people in 2016), the research shows, and ranks near the top nationwide for the percentage of disabled residents — at least one in five — who are able to coordinate their own support services.

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