NJ ranks poorly for outcomes of developmentally disabled people
Most U.S. states are doing a better job than New Jersey serving individuals with intellectual and development disabilities, as well as their families, according to an annual report.
The Case for Inclusion 2019, compiled by the ANCOR Foundation and United Cerebral Palsy, drops New Jersey from 34th in the rankings last year to 38th this year, based on how well state programs, primarily Medicaid, serve the vulnerable population.
Linked mostly to data gathered from 2016, New Jersey lands in the bottom half of states in three of the five key areas examined that are considered critical to the inclusion, support and empowerment of the disabled.
New Jersey's poor showing is contributed in part to the 5.8 percent of residents with disabilities who live in one of the five state-run institutions — the fifth-highest percentage in the nation. More than 3,100 New Jerseyans with a disability, meanwhile, live in large-scale group homes or intermediate care facilities with at least seven residents.
"States are actually awarded for smaller models in this report," said Esme Grant Grewal, vice president of government relations for the ANCOR Foundation. "The goal would be to seek opportunities for those individuals, if they choose, to live in more integrated community environments than the state facilities."
Home to a little over 1,400 New Jerseyans, the state facilities spend an average of $319,375 per person, per year, the report said.
"That's on the really really high end of costs per person," Grewal said. "So those dollars are not being invested in the most practical way."
Compared to a national average of 19 percent, just 11 percent of working-age disabled individuals in New Jersey were employed alongside those without disabilities and earning market-driven wages, the report said.
New Jersey's ranking was helped by a relatively low number of individuals on the state's waiting list for residential services.
Noting the data is mostly two years old, and from under former Gov. Chris Christie's administration, the state Department of Human Services said it constantly takes steps to improve its programs and services.
Among moves made within the last year, the Department said, is increased pay for direct support professionals; improved communication with parents and guardians; and the launch of the NJ ABLE tax-free savings program to help with expenses such as education, housing and transportation, without threatening their Medicaid status.
"These new steps further help individuals with disabilities in New Jersey live independently with the highest quality of life possible, which is and always will be a top Department priority," communications director Tom Hester said.