TRENTON – The Assembly Human Services Committee released a bill calling on Gov. Chris Christie to rescind the recommendations made by a task force calling for the closure of two state developmental disabilities centers in North Jersey.
The bill A3951, sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vaineri Huttle (D-37) of Englewood, said the bill is needed because she believes the closure of those centers would cause “significant upheaval” for the families of the residents currently at those centers. She said the Human Services Department has done little to put the affected families at ease.
“We believe the task force certainly didn’t get it right,” she said. “We believe there needs to be fair hearings.”
The task force was the brainchild of Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1) of Dennis, who strongly lobbied to keep the Vineland Developmental Disabilities Center in his district open, even though the Human Services initially recommended that center to be shut down
The two centers slated for closure are North Jersey developmental disability center and Woodbridge developmental center in Middlesex County.
Huttle said the Assembly recently passed legislation that calls on the state to retain at least one DD center in each region.
Paul Lowestein saying precious state money is being spent on underutilized facilities and need to be redirected in order to help thousands of residents with developmental disabilities who are on waiting lists for housing.
Mercedes Witowsky of Community Access Unlimited said people with significant disabilities can live in the community, adding there’s highly qualified staff at such community homes.
“I ask we think with our heads, not with our hearts,” she said.
Tom Baffuto of ARC New Jersey opposed the bill.
“We simplydo not need seven developmental disability centers anymore,” he said. “We have to move forward. We’re causing needless anxiety.”
But Huttle asked what residents do if they have no choice but to stay at DD centers, many of which are a far distance from North Jersey. Vineland, for example, is more than 100 miles away.
“I agree it’s a hardship for some folks,” Baffuto said.