The everyday struggles of individuals served by the Department of Human Services (DHS) and our partners in the non-profit and provider communities only worsen when the economy sours. The need for social and economic supports increases and the State’s ability to respond is challenged, but not weakened.
Through this economic crisis, however, Governor Christie has maintained important aspects of the safety net that has helped so many New Jerseyans. Though it is stretched more than ever, DHS continues to provide help for New Jersey families in essential areas – when it is most needed:
- NJ FamilyCare and Medicaid: We believe strongly in the mandate to identify and enroll all eligible children into a subsidized health insurance program. Currently, over 600,000 children in families earning up to 350% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) – the most generous eligibility in the country – are covered by NJ FamilyCare and Medicaid combined.
- Food Stamps: To assist individuals and families who are food insecure, the eligibility in the Food Stamp program will expand in April to include families earning up to 185% of the FPL. This expansion is of particular importance to individuals and families receiving unemployment or other subsidized support, who previously may have been deemed income-ineligible.
- Protecting Individuals with mental illness and developmental Disabilities: We are committed to serving individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities, who are now in psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers, in a more suitable community setting.
When confronted with difficult budget choices, it’s also important to strengthen our community based approach at the state, county and local levels. And we can strengthen our efforts through stronger collaboration among public and private organizations.
Some collaborative alliances are formal while others may take place unexpectedly in response to a particular situation or crisis. This is why community partnerships are becoming increasingly important for new ways of doing business to take hold. Since becoming Commissioner, I have seen DHS be creative in delivering much needed services to our residents. Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti this January, New Jersey worked together to meet the needs of repatriates and Haitian nationals seeking assistance. At that point, it was uncertain as to what lay before us – including the number of families we’d serve or how we would coordinate their needs.
But, working in partnership with the Salvation Army, Jefferson Park Ministries, other faith-based organizations, county partners and multiple state departments, we successfully opened the Haitian Family Resource Center in Union County providing a variety of assistance to over 350 individuals and families to date.
Now more than ever, we must continue to be diligent. What we do affects real people and real lives – and we are committed to ensuring that the safety net remains secure. The Governor and I take this charge very seriously.
By Commissioner Jennifer Velez, New Jersey Department of Human Services