TRENTON – Assembly Human Services Chairwoman Joann Downey joined student Anna Landre and legislative colleagues Senator Vin Gopal and Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling at a State House press conference to announce a new package of legislation aiming to help support people with disabilities, particularly students.
“Students with disabilities often need the help of a personal care assistant for basic tasks like getting dressed or using a restroom,” said Downey (D-Freehold). “If you’re living on-campus, though, especially at an out-of-state university, things become much more complicated. Right now, New Jersey’s out-of-date Medicaid rules prevent students with disabilities from getting the help they need, which in many cases could keep someone could attending school at all.”
Currently, Medicaid only covers the cost of a personal care assistant (PCA) for a person with disabilities for up to 40 hours a week. That allotment is tailored to the schedule of a person who lives at home, usually with a parent or other caretaker who is able to take over their care when not at work. However, a student living on-campus, away from their usual support structure and family members, could require up to 100 hours of weekly care just to complete basic tasks like showering, getting dressed or undressed, getting to class, or simply using a restroom.
Meanwhile, assessments from insurance companies have been known to slash assistant hours down to 10 hours a day, making it all but impossible for a student with disabilities to meet a demanding college schedule.
“This is a complex problem, and requires more than one solution,” said Houghtaling (D-Neptune). “It starts with empowering the voices of the disability community to make their voices heard when determining how these programs are set up. We also need to expand the rights of students to reliable, quality care, and make sure that the Department of Human Services is fully equipped to tell these young people what services they qualify for. Finally, it’s time to re-examine the entire personal care assistant model to make sure that it’s able to provide for the unique needs of on-campus students, rather than just using a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Downey and Houghtaling renewed a push to pass their legislation (A-4130) which would greatly increase the number of personal care hours for students and others enrolled in New Jersey’s WorkAbility program, which offers working people with disabilities the opportunity to receive full coverage under Medicaid. Gopal, Downey, and Houghtaling are also exploring improving transparency and creating a task force that would create more realistic expectations regarding how PCA care hours are allotted. They will work to help students with disabilities better navigate the pursuit of higher education.
“It’s unfair to force anyone with a disability to overcome constant obstacles if they want to further their education,” said Gopal (D-Long Branch). “The outcome of these changes is simple: a fairer, clearer process that works for people with disabilities, instead of limiting them. Rather than forcing them to stay at home, we can unleash the academic and professional potential of every person with a disability. With these reforms, we can create new opportunities for every person who’s had to fight against the system to succeed.”
Senator Vin Gopal, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling and Assemblywoman Joann Downey represent New Jersey’s 11th Legislative District in the State Senate and Assembly, where they work to make the Garden State more affordable for its hard-working residents. The 11th District includes the Monmouth County municipalities of Allenhurst, Asbury Park, Colts Neck, Deal, Eatontown, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Interlaken, Loch Arbour, Long Branch, Neptune City, Neptune, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Shrewsbury Borough, Shrewsbury Township, Tinton Falls and West Long Branch.