HEALTH

Department of Human Services commissioner testifies before Assembly Budget Committee

BY Joanna Gagis, Producer/Correspondent |

The Department of Human Services manages one of the largest budgets of all the departments — a total of $19 billion. With a large budget comes a wide range of services that the department oversees — things like include nutrition assistance, services for seniors, individuals with disabilities and mental health and addiction.

The Assembly Budget Committee heard testimony Monday from Department of Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson. She said that a top priority for the coming fiscal year is the Nurture NJ program, which was launched by First Lady Tammy Murphy earlier in the year.

“Our priorities for the year ahead are really implementing the first lady’s initiative that’s focused on trying to reduce infant and maternal mortality,” she said.

The commissioner also talked about the state’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic — things like increasing MAT, or medication-assisted treatment, for individuals struggling with opioid addiction.

But one concern that several legislators raised was the impact of the minimum wage increase on direct service professionals, the people who work with medically fragile individuals or those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The rates for these workers have to be above minimum wage, and as that minimum increases, the challenge will be keep these direct service provider rates competitive as well.

While the commissioner talked about expanding many of the states’ programs, the budget that was presented Monday actually has a savings of $250 million. Johnson said they were able to find and claim matching federal dollars that were simply left on the table before now. There was no argument from the Assembly committee there.