New Jersey ranks high in the average income of its residents. It’s always in the top five, whatever think tank or media org is doing the ranking, and for years it has swapped the top spot back and forth with Connecticut of states with similar mixes of urban suburban and rural, and diversity.
We seem to be good at generating income and, logically enough, that should translate into the general wealth and welfare.
But we have not so been so good at is how well we use that wealth to support its citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities. New Jersey’s rankings in this area are not so good.
We spend more money to support the small number of people still living in the state’s developmental centers—about 2,500—than almost any other state.
We spend less money to support everybody else than two thirds of the rest of the country.
We’ve been bogged down for years in the old arguments about closing institutions.
It’s been forty years since the country had its Homer Simpson “Doh!” moment about how best to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and what kind of living environment that should take place in. It came in the wake of serious abuses and neglect in some of the nation’s institutions. At time and in the years since it was clear to anyone looking at the issue honestly and without personal biases that money for that support and those new living arrangements would, in large part, need to come from the money that had been used to fund institutions. That meant, and means, that the large institutions needed to be depopulated and closed. Many states moved forward with that logical progression. New Jersey’s developmental centers have reduced their populations significantly. But we have only managed to close one of the large (with capacities of 500 or more residents) centers in that forty years.
Unfortunately, decades later New Jersey seems to be still be bogged down in personal arguments and political jockeying as two thirds of the rest of the country continue to move forward.
There’s no reason why we should even be debating the Governor Christy’s plan to close two developmental centers. It’s a debate rooted in the past. It holds hostage thousands of individuals and families who are in desperate need of services.
Make no mistake. If there are needs for improvements in New Jersey’s community supports system, and there assuredly are, as with any system that size, those improvements have been and will continue to be delayed because of opposition to moving ahead with an already way overdue plan to reduce our reliance on institutions. It’s hypocritical for those who have block DC closure all these years to cite as a reason for caution the inadequacies of the community. Advocates and professionals years ago—I know; I was there—made it clear, and backed it up with solid data, that the only way to shore up the community system was by redirecting resources from the institutions. That’s still true today—truer even—and getting worse every day we delay.
That’s one of the many reasons much of the country has moved on and New Jersey compares so poorly with other states.
New Jersey spends more money to support people in large institutions or institution-like facilities than all but three other states. We are second to last, in our support of people in community homes, only Mississippi spends less as a percentage of total expenditures for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We’re grouped in with the bottom-feeder states in the percentage of our support for families (8 percent; 19th lowest); individual and family support (16 percent, 12th lowest); family support and supported living (7 percent; US average 20 percent; NJ 42nd); support for residencies for six or fewer people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (47th).
We should be able to do better. The public supports our doing better. By an overwhelming margin the public wants the government to provide the supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the best way possible. That’s universally known to be in a home with the right supports. They don’t want be involved in it. They want their elected and appointed officials to take care of the details.
We’re letting them and their neighbors with disabilities down. We need to move on with closing Woodbridge and North Jersey so we can move on with the challenges of supporting those and their families who are not getting the supports they need creating a long-term system for the future. I can tell you that people with intellectual disabilities and their families not already associated with the developmental centers don’t want that option and never will. They’re looking for 21st Century solutions, along with the two thirds of states that are ahead of ours. We’d better look to catch up before the consequences of not doing so catch up with us. In many ways they already are.