As budget hearings continue in the Assembly, social programs have been topics of conversation. With the flailing economy, there is less money available to fund some of the programs and at the same time, more residents need them. New Jersey Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss her department and its future.
Velez said, “These are very tough times. They’ve been so for a couple of years.” She explained that residents with higher incomes than in the past have been impacted by the recession and need services like subsidized health insurance, childcare and programs to get back to work. She said the eligibility threshold for food stamps was increased recently in response to the need.
Despite all that, Velez has a positive outlook. “I see things getting better,” she said. “It’s slow but I think I’ve been around long enough in government to really see things are actually getting a little bit better.” She added that officials are being smarter with their resources and sometimes having to limit their choices of certain programs because of budgetary constraints.
The Department of Human Services is growing, Velez explained, because some senior services that are currently handled by the Department of Health and Senior Services are moving to her department. She is optimistic that the changes will benefit the state’s seniors.
“We could really leverage Medicaid resources to serve them to hopefully keep people in their home, in their community and not have them only resort to a nursing home,” she said. “So to leverage those Medicaid dollars in one department smartly will serve them better.”
Velez said New Jersey is trying to get matching funds from the federal government for Medicaid. She said that would expand the breadth of services offered because it can be done in a more coordinated and smart fashion. She said she should learn shortly about how much money the department will receive from federal funds.
While it’s difficult to budget with the uncertainty, Velez said her department members are doing some “concurrent planning.” She added, “That planning is underway right now and it’s really teeing up to the point of them saying yes so we can unveil this to the state.”