Trenton – The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee today advanced legislation sponsored by Senator Linda Greenstein and Senator Nellie Pou that would require the State Office of Emergency Management to establish a permanent unit in the office to serve the needs of State residents with access and functional needs.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on residents of New Jersey with disabilities, older adults, and other at-risk groups, many of whom are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, as well as the consequences of other types of disasters and emergencies. Establishing this unit will allow OEM to better serve these residents, especially at a time when they are at their most vulnerable,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer / Middlesex).
In 2018, the CDC estimated that 24.6% of New Jersey adult residents had a disability, a sizeable portion of the State’s population. The economic impact on people with disabilities and their families, as well as the burden on individual health as a result of the pandemic are an existential threat to the Disability community.
“A time of public emergency is stressful for all segments of society, yet it’s particularly scary for those in the disability community and other vulnerable populations. Part of the role of government concerns providing for the general welfare of residents. This bill will help us more efficiently support residents in our states with access and functional needs,” said Senator Pou (D-Bergen / Passaic).
Under the bill, the new unit’s responsibilities would include:
(1) determining the needs of residents with access and functional needs, before, during, and after disasters and emergencies;
(2) determining the Statewide availability of relevant resources and assistance;
(3) assessing and addressing the ability of residents with access and functional needs to access available resources and assistance; and
(4) coordinating with county and local offices of emergency management and relevant resource providers to determine, expand, and implement best practices to be utilized in support of residents with access and functional needs.
Those who would meet the criteria for being “a resident with access and functional needs,” include: a person with a disability; an older adult; a person with limited English proficiency; a person with limited access to transportation that would enable the person to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of a disaster or emergency; and a person with limited access to financial resources that would enable the person to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of a disaster or emergency.
The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee released the bill, S-3659, by a vote of 6-0.