Rice-Vitale Bill To Increase Oversight In Aid To Disabled Individuals Approved In Committee

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Ronald L. Rice and Joseph F. Vitale which would increase legislative oversight and public input into the State’s program to apply for federal Medicaid waivers for people with disabilities was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today by a vote of 8-0.

“The State Division of Developmental Disabilities has neglected to do its job by failing to apply for the appropriate waivers that could have saved the taxpayers of New Jersey nearly $20 million in funding for programs for the disabled,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “The Division has since acknowledged that it did not pursue federal matching funds for the past several years. I have concerns that the Division is leaving State government, and the people of New Jersey, with the burden of providing funds for necessary programs when the federal government is already providing money to those who apply.”

“We need to take a closer look at the Division and ensure that they have exhausted every possible funding opportunity before coming back to the State for assistance,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “While we don’t want to cut programs to jeopardize the quality care we already provide to those with disabilities, we have to be aware that the State only has limited resources to provide for different programs. If there’s a big pot of cash out there from the federal government, and New Jersey isn’t applying to the appropriate programs to be eligible, we need to address that right away.”

The bill, S-2455, would increase State oversight over federal Medicaid waivers to serve persons with developmental disabilities. The bill would provide for greater Legislative oversight of the Division of Developmental Disabilities activities concerning the State’s application for Federal Home and Community Care Medicaid waivers by requiring the Director of the Division of Development Disabilities to file a report with the Chairman of the Senate Health Committee and the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee at three month intervals.

“By keeping the Legislature in the loop regarding the application process, we can exert greater pressure and pool our talents with the Division to ensure that New Jersey receives the most it can from the federal Medicaid waiver program,” said Senator Vitale.

The bill would also require public hearings on the waiver application process, and would make available to the public, via the Department of Human Services Web site, the determination by the federal government for the State’s application, as well as a plan on how the Division of Developmental Disabilities plans to allocate funds.

“Communication is extremely important in this process, and we need to give the people who are directly affected by these programs the ability to voice their concerns in a public forum,” said Senator Rice.

Senator Rice added the Medicaid waivers are necessary to allow the State to reimburse for services provided to developmentally disabled individuals outside of an institutional setting.

“Without Medicaid waivers, New Jerseyans could not be covered for the necessary care services that are provided outside of our hospitals and group homes,” said Senator Rice. “New Jerseyans with disabilities rely on the many great programs we offer that give them a shred of independence from their disability, and without the federal match of 50 cents to every dollar spent by the State, we cannot hope to ever increase or improve those programs.”

Senator Vitale added that the State has an obligation to provide at least the same level of service that has been provided to families caring for disabled individuals in the past.

“We cannot shirk the responsibility of caring for the disabled, but at the same time, it would be irresponsible to ignore federal funding when New Jersey could use that money to expand what we currently offer,” said Senator Vitale. “We need to use all the tools at our disposal, whether that’s State grants, federal waivers, or whatever, to ensure that New Jersey’s renowned network of programs for the disabled continues to get support, and continues its mission to help those who need it most.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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