Senate Budget Committee Hears About Human Services Programs

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

At a Senate Budget Committee hearing today, one of the issues was the emergency assistance program for the homeless.

Sens. Nellie Pou and Sandra Cunningham wondered why the number of people served by the program has dropped dramatically.

“We’re talking about 30,000 people who are no longer involved or receiving services. It made me wonder. That does not make sense,” Cunningham said.

Acting Human Services Commissioner Elizabeth Connolly said part of the explanation is that the economy is improving.

“A lot of our recipients, they have gained employment. They leave the program from employment. They still utilize the SNAP program and other programs of that sort, so they may still be involved with us in the system,” she said.

“I wish I could see where they’re working,” Cunningham said.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz asked about the new federal requirement that disabled adults in group homes attend a day program somewhere outside the home.

Connolly defended it as both worthwhile and necessary to qualify for Medicaid.

“The basis of the home and community based services  plan is that people with disabilities need to be and should be, rightfully so, integrated into the community with their peers without disabilities. And the federal government is striving to push all states in that direction so that people are interacting with people with disabilities and without disabilities…,” Connolly said.

Ruiz cut her off, saying, “But that could be a whole host of things.”

Ruiz objects to what she calls a one-size-fits-all approach.

“What’s encouraging is that the department is willing to listen. In the first roll-out of the plan, there were some hours for work that were put in place without recognizing that a client could be at an end of a spectrum that wouldn’t necessarily be the best practice of care for that individual,” she said.

New Jersey’s opioid epidemic also came up.

“Should we as a Legislature be looking at making those painkillers as a prescription of last resort, I mean particularly for those that are 18 and under? You have a kid that’s 14 and gets a tooth pulled and a dentist is writing them a prescription for Percocet,” said Sen. Jennifer Beck.

Sen. Jeff Van Drew is a dentist.

“When I do a root canal routinely I tell them to use Ibuprofen,” he said.

Other issues discussed? The Return Home New Jersey program, protecting the disabled from abuse and the growing need for home health care nurses.