The NJCDD 2016 Election Questionnaire

Candidates from New Jersey’s 2016 Congressional Races Weigh in on Disability Issues

Much of the news coverage around this year’s election centers around our major candidates for President of the United States.  However, Election Day (which, this year, will be held on Tuesday, November 8) will also give New Jersey voters an opportunity to elect legislators to represent us in the US House of Representatives.  This year, each of our state’s 12 Representatives will be decided upon by voters.  With that in mind, it’s very important for us to be informed on the issues that matter most to us and our families.

Over the summer, People & Families Magazine repeatedly contacted the campaign offices of New Jersey’s Republican and Democratic candidates for the US House of Representatives, and presented each of them with a list of six questions that address major issues of importance for New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities and their family members.

Of the 24 candidates contacted for this survey, seven have submitted their responses in time for the publication of this magazine.  Any additional candidate responses received after the publication of this magazine will be listed on the NJ Council on Developmental Disabilities’ website at www.njcdd.org.

The topics addressed in the survey include Social Security and Medicaid funding, Direct Support Provider wages, restraints and seclusion, employment, and transportation.  Below is a complete list of the questions asked.  Following that are the full and unedited responses for each of the candidates invited to participate in this survey.

 

Question One:

Federal Funding for Disability Support
Federal funding sources such as SSI, SSDI, and Medicaid are a common way in which individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) secure critical support services that allow them to lead meaningful and productive lives within our communities.  In your view, how should such programs be modified to ensure that individuals with I/DD are able to receive the support services they need in community-based settings?

 

Question Two:

Direct Support Provider Wages
Home Health Aides and Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) provide the kind of vital day-to-day support for individuals with I/DD that makes it possible for such individuals to live successfully in our communities, and America’s need for workers in these professions is projected to increase dramatically in the coming years.  However, current funding models keep DSP wages at very low levels – around just 10 dollars and hour, on average in New Jersey – and prevent these professionals from securing full-time work or benefits.  As a result, the turnover rate in this field is staggering, with support provider agencies struggling to retain qualified staff.  How would you work to address this issue to ensure that qualified DSPs are able to stay within this profession?

 

Question Three:

The Use of Restraints and Seclusion in our Schools
Research shows that both physical and chemical restraints and seclusion practices in schools are used disproportionally on children with disabilities, frequently resulting in trauma, injury, and even death.  The federal Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASSA) would allow the use of restraints and seclusion only in extreme emergency circumstances.  Thus far, only two US Representatives from New Jersey have co-sponsored the bill.  How would you act to ensure that children with I/DD are kept safe in New Jersey’s schools?

 

Question Four:

Employment First
Many New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities have expressed either an increased desire or an outright expectation for having a steady job that pays a competitive wage.  In April of 2012, Governor Chris Christie declared New Jersey to be an “Employment First” state.  What does that distinction mean to you, and how would you work to create an environment where employers are not only willing, but eager to hire people with disabilities for paid positions?

 

Question Five:

Transportation
Adequate and easily accessible transportation options play a critical role in ensuring that individuals with I/DD are able to live, work, play, and exercise their rights as citizens as included members of our communities.  However, in New Jersey, many individuals with I/DD find traveling throughout our state and beyond to be a considerable challenge.  How would you address our state’s need for increased accessible transportation options?

 

Question Six:

Vision for the Future
In your view, what do you see as the most ideal future for people with developmental disabilities in our communities?  How would you work toward achieving that ideal?

 

 

US House of Representatives

 

District 1

(Republican) Bob Patterson
As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

Representive Donald Norcross(Democrat) US Congressman Donald Norcross

Question One:

Federal Funding for Disability Support
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have been the cornerstones upon which disability policy have been built over the last quarter century. It is important not only to preserve these programs for future generations, but also ensure they work better for current generations. Earlier this year, I introduced legislation that would change how cost of living adjustments (COLA) are calculated for people on SSI and SSDI to better align their COLAs with the increases in goods and services that beneficiaries are actually purchasing. For example, this new formula would weight increases in the cost of health care services more heavily, given that individuals with disabilities are high utilizers of health care services.

 

Question Two:

Direct Support Professional Wages
Home Health Aides and DSPs play critical roles in the continuum of care and constantly face new challenges as they serve the needs of the burgeoninghome health care market. Earlier this year, I introduced a bill that would raise the minimum wage for all Americans to $15, including home health aides. Raising the minimum wage would help boost all American’s wages and ultimately allow home health aides to remain focused on the important work of delivering care, without being worried about whether they are going to be able to pay their bills.

 

Question Three:

The Use of Restraints and Seclusion in our Schools
I am proud to be one of the two cosponsors from New Jersey of the Keeping All Students Safe Act (HR 927). Restraints and seclusion should only be used in extreme emergency circumstances and should not be ordinarily employed as a condition of a child’s education. Furthermore, any use of restraints or seclusion should be wholly transparent and reported to parents promptly and comprehensively.

 

Question Four:

Employment First
New Jersey is fortunate to have some of the best rehabilitation programs in the country. An “Employment First”  State means to me that integrated employment should be our State’s goal for all of its residents, and more specifically that individuals applying for jobs should be judged upon their ability to discharge the duties of a job, not based upon an employer’s preconceived notion of a person with a disability. I support employment for people with disabilities in the most integrated setting possible, as well as creative employment options for the most severely disabled individuals, including rehabilitation therapy.

 

Question Five:

Transportation
Access to transportation is a critical part of ensuring that individuals with disabilities in New Jersey are able to reach their full potential. I was proud to support the passage of the FAST Act this past Fall, that included more than a 10% increase in formula grants for the enhanced mobility of seniors and individuals with disabilities. While a 10% increase is a good start, it is not nearly enough. I support increasing access to public transportation for all Americans and people in New Jersey, including the construction of a Camden-Glassboro light rail line, which would have the added benefit of increasing the ease of transportation and independence of individuals with disabilities.

 

Question Six:

Vision for the Future
The ideal future that I envision for individuals with developmental disabilities entails ensuring that all Americans are able to reach their full potential and includes two specific goals. First, we must continue to modify laws/programs comprehensively to ensure that all venues/opportunities are open to any American, with or without a disability, who are capable of performing the task. As discussed above, barriers to meeting that goal can include discriminatory employment policies, lack of access to high quality rehabilitation and medical services, and even issues with transportation. The second goal is to increase our understanding of the science behind developmental disabilities and invest in ways medical advancements that ameliorate or eliminate those disabilities. During my time in Congress, I have been proud to support and sponsor legislative efforts to increase funding for the NIH and CDC dramatically, so that they might be able to pursue new breakthroughs in a variety of questions that have evaded researchers for decades.

 

 

District 2

(Republican) US Congressman Frank LoBiondo

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

(Democrat) Dave Cole

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

 

 

District 3

(Republican) US Congressman Tom MacArthur

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

(Democrat) Frederick John LaVergne

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

 

 

District 4

(Republican) US Congressman Chris Smith

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

 Lorna Phillipson (District 4 Democratic Candidate)

 (Democrat) Lorna Phillipson

Question One:

Federal Funding for Disability Support
There has been a reduction of benefits through SSI, SSDI, and Medicare over the years and this needs to be corrected. The government should be providing better care, not less. We can enable the disabled to live within their community, just like able-bodied people. We should be providing a better support system to the families, rather than leaving them on their own. Charitable groups are essential, but government subsidies and direct support for caregiving, transportation, healthcare, and education can provide the missing piece. With increased autism in children and other developmentally challenged children becoming adults, we need to expand care and training.

 

Question Two:

Direct Support Professional Wages
Wages in general are too low. We cannot expect workers to struggle with poverty level salaries. The Living Wage in NJ is over $20.hr. No doubt, better pay, benefits, and working conditions would reduce the turnover for DSPs. Recognition for their hard work and dedication also helps. Assistance with training might be useful.

 

Question Three:

The Use of Restraints and Seclusion in our Schools
I have been appalled at the excessive use of restraints and seclusion. We hear way too many stories about children abused in these ways at public and private schools. Training teachers, aides, and caregivers better methods to deal with developmentally disabled children is necessary. Greater understanding by administrators, the police, first responders, and others is essential. New legislation can provide better support for the children and adults in their care.

 

Question Four:

Employment First
Remind employers that a disability does not mean “incapable”.

Encourage companies to hire people with disabilities through subsidies, if necessary.

Even veterans with brain injuries want to have opportunities to stay in a productive society.  The government can and should legislate to encourage employers to hire the developmentally disabled.

 

Question Five:

Transportation
There has been minimal effort to address transportation issues and the state can and should add funding to remedy the situation. Many of us recognize the problem when we become temporarily disabled from injuries. I have lived in other countries and noted how little has been done in other countries, but am extremely critical of the situation in the US. I am well aware of the challenges because of memory loss in my elderly parents, my friends who have mentally challenged and autistic children, my friends who have brain injuries from accidents, illnesses, or war.

Frequently, people will recognize the physically disabled but fail to notice the mentally disabled and developmentally challenged. Society as a whole needs to be better informed. The government in coordination with nonprofits can bring this information to the public at large.

I know several families dealing with autism and other developmentally disabled children. Several are now adults, which brings another dimension to the needs and challenges.

Recently, a caregiver was shot, because the police officer felt threatened by the autistic adult in his care. (He was aiming for the autistic person and hit the caregiver instead!) Shocking, but the lack of training has created this situation.

Airlines and security lines at the airports have been slow to recognize the situation for developmentally disabled children and adults. Again, staff require additional training to recognize the disabled and they need to listen to the caregiver with the person.

I am very sympathetic about the lack of transportation, lack of access to stores, restaurants, hotels, community access to parks, beaches and recreation, and much more. These can and must be improved. I applaud places that make improvements, like my local theater with special showings for people who prefer lights on and lower sound levels. I wholeheartedly agree that much more needs to be done.

 

Question Six:

Vision for the Future
I would be happy to champion the various accessibility issues (as I know it), but would greatly appreciate the guidance from groups who are working with the disabled.

 

District Five

(Republican) US Congressman Scott Garrett

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

Josh Gottheimer

(Democrat) Josh Gottheimer

Question One:

Federal Funding for Disability Support
I promise to protect Social Security and Medicare for future generations and will oppose any attempt to privatize or cut the benefits of these essential programs. Efforts to privatize the system endanger too many who need the system’s support. Instead, we should make our current programs sustainable for future generations through a strategic bipartisan approach. Social Security and Medicare are foundational for many Americans’ retirement plans and individuals with I/DD; those programs should be a guarantee – not a gamble.

 

Question Two:

Direct Support Professional Wages
Our elected leaders in Washington need to make sure that we are supporting those who work hard for a living. Throughout my campaign, I have enjoyed the support of hard-working people who understand the need for wage growth in our economy. To me, a living wage is one that would ensure that an American working full time can avoid the edges of poverty and food insecurity that plague too many. Direct support professionals provide a critical lifeline between communities and individuals with I/DD, and they should be given financial security for doing such important work.

 

Question Three:

The Use of Restraints and Seclusion in our Schools
I believe that restraints should only be used in emergencies when a child is at risk of harming themselves or others.

 

Question Four:

Employment First
I believe that we can form public private partnerships that match individuals with I/DD and positions in which they can flourish. Meaningful employment and the opportunity to contribute and earn a salary is something that is beneficial for both employers and employees.

 

Question Five:

Transportation
Fixing our broken transportation and infrastructure is one of my top priorities. I believe we need public transportation that is reliable, robust, and easily accessible for everyone.

 

Question Six:

Vision for the Future
Ultimately, the most important thing we can do is make the tools that can help individuals with I/DD succeed available to them and make them feel empowered to achieve whatever they dream to be possible. My role in that is to be an ally to this community, to listen and to craft legislation that allows those possibilities to become realities.

 

 

District Six

 Brent Sonnek-Schmelz

(Republican) Brent Sonnek-Schmelz

Question One:

Federal Funding for Disability Support
These programs act as lifelines for people in need to allow them to live normal lives and operate independently without risk of becoming destitute.  As a society, we have an obligation to provide a basic level of income to those in need, and those that cannot adequately provide for themselves.  Through SSI, SSDI and Medicaid, I/DD can access and pay for care as they need it.  But the programs are not perfect.  Often accessing these programs can be complex, as are most federal programs.  By simplifying access, we can ensure that more people can access benefits they deserve and remain productive members of their communities.

 

Question Two:

Direct Support Professional Wages
Direct Support Professionals are the lifelines for developmentally disabled and elderly care around the country and help their patients lead longer, happier, more fulfilling lives.  It is an inevitable reality that, as the baby-boomers population ages, the number of Americans needing assistance from DSPs is going to skyrocket.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the number of DSPs needed for long term services and support is expected to more than double, from 12 million in 2010 to 27 million in 2050.  Additionally, the CBO estimates the need for DSPs is expected to increase by 48 percent in the next decade alone. But as a result of low salary and uncompetitive benefit packages, the DSP workforce has been plagued for decades by turnover rates ranging from 40-50%, a rate far exceeding most other industries. Meeting this looming need will be extremely difficult to achieve without a committed, stable and well-compensated DSP workforce.

That is why I support many of the efforts to increase the overall wages of Direct Support Professionals, including exploring new payment mechanisms under Medicaid, providing meaningful cost of living adjustments to offset inflation, and requiring that states develop and implement a plan to address reimbursement rates, high turnover, and inadequate training.

 

Question Three:

The Use of Restraints and Seclusion in our Schools
Restraint and seclusion are antiquated forms of punishment and are counterproductive to the health and wellbeing of all children, but especially those with developmental disabilities.  As the GAO has found, there have been thousands of cases where children have been injured or even killed because of these tactics, and they must be abolished from our schools. Furthermore, it is clear from the evidence that the use of restraint and seclusion can often exacerbate the behaviors that staff are trying to eliminate. It is immoral and unjust to allow these practices to continue in the place of more constructive and safe practices, and I would proudly co-sponsor the Keeping All Students Safe Act.

 

Question Four:

Employment First
‘Employment First’ acknowledges that the preferred outcome for an adult in society to find fulfilling and worthwhile employment, and that this is no different for adults with disabilities.   I would agree that having a good paying job is a key tenant to living the American Dream, and that the ability to be a productive, self-determining, and employed member of society is beneficial for the developmentally disabled by increasing self-esteem, instilling a sense of personal fulfillment, and increasing their social networks, It also reduces poverty and expands the tax base, shrinks enrollment in entitlement programs, creates a more diverse community for everyone, and eases demand on social service agencies.

In practice, we should create opportunities for community employment by examining policies, practices, and roles that currently exist in government to determine where competitive employment for these individuals is possible.  We should also identify community needs, address program sustainability, and emphasize best practices to identify and promote successes or quickly address failures.

Finally, there are many benefits for a business to consider hiring a person with a developmental disability, and I would work to ensure these positive attributes are well known and encourage the business community to participate in the program.

Research suggests that 92% of the American public view companies that hire people with disabilities more favorably than those who do not. And, 87% of the public would prefer to give their business to companies that hire people with disabilities.  Additionally, it can reduce turnover costs as people with disabilities tend to keep their jobs longer, as 62% of employees with a disability have been at the same job three years or longer. Industry reports consistently rate workers with disabilities as average or above average in performance, quality and quantity of work, flexibility to demands, attendance and safety.

 

Question Five:

Transportation
New Jersey is renowned for its poor job of funding transportation projects.  It’s even more unfortunate when you couple this with the high cost of living and large percentage of the population that lives in urban centers.

We must address public transportation standards and ensure that our infrastructure is secure and safe for the millions of people that rely on it every day.  We should also slow the rate of increasing cost that has affected New Jersey’s public transportation options and ensure that those with developmental disabilities receive a discounted fare.

Finally, we should encourage the creation of more public-private partnerships with the business community.  As we have seen with the rise of several ridesharing startups, traditional transportation needs are no longer sufficiently filling consumers’ needs.  We should work with private businesses to determine more efficient ways for those with developmental disabilities to traverse New Jersey’s busy streets.

 

Question Six:

Vision for the Future
As stated above, we should ensure that the social safety net programs that these individuals rely on remain financially solvent.  We also need to recruit and train and additional support professionals, as the need for their services is about to increase dramatically.  One key to accomplishing this is to make sure they are paid a more competitive wage.

We should also make sure that the developmentally disabled are treated with care respect and that they are not harmed with outdated and harmful practices like the use of physical and chemical restraints and seclusion in schools. Finally, we should work to create community job opportunities where the developmentally disabled can earn a living wage and be a productive member of society, and ensure these individuals are able to travel to and from these jobs in a safe and affordable way.

 

(Democrat) US Congressman Frank Pallone

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

 

 

District 7

(Republican) US Congressman Leonard Lance

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

Peter Jacob 

(Democrat) Peter Jacob

Question One:

Federal Funding for Disability Support
In general, funding for SSI, SSDI, and Medicaid need to be restored, and in many cases expanded.  These programs are critical for not only I/DD individuals, but countless members of our communities.  Beyond that, we believe that the federal government should explore opportunities to provide grants to states that wish to employ pilot programs that experiment with new and creative ways in which we can provide better support and empower I/DD individuals to lead meaningful and productive lives. The proper formulas for COLA must be implemented into SSI and SSDI to ensure continued purchasing power and adequate way of life for those with disabilities.

 

Question Two:

Direct Support Professional Wages
The most direct way to address these issues is to increase the federal minimum wage and reform our health care system such that it is either easier for (a) those who have part time work to secure full time health care benefits or (b) set regulatory standards that preclude employers from cutting full time hours to avoid paying for benefits.  These material benefits will go along way towards reducing the high turnover rate.

 

Question Three:

The Use of Restraints and Seclusion in our Schools
We support the KASSA, and believe restraints and seclusions must be a last resort for only the most extreme emergency situations.  Furthermore, consistent with our views on law enforcement reform in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, we believe that we need to provide our public servants with more training to specifically deal with scenarios they may be unfamiliar with (such as when a child in school acts out) in a non-violent manner and such that they are able to deescalate the tension of the situation.

 

Question Four:

Employment First
With respect to persons with disabilities – the United States has some of the strongest disability protections in the world and more must be done to enforce those protections when it comes to the work place.  Beyond that, it is vital that we make every effort to reach full employment and ensure that everyone that wants a good paying job has a good paying job.  We would support the creation of tax credits to incentivize employers to hire people with disabilities

 

Question Five:

Transportation
We strongly support the Rebuild America Act, which specifically deals with updating and expanding the infrastructure (including transportation) in the US.  We support the expansion of public transportation across the state, in addition to the RAA’s efforts to create more jobs for the disabled community in addition to benefiting them through updated public transportation.

 

Question Six:

Vision for the Future
Every American has the right to the pursuit of happiness, and it is the government’s obligation to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential in life.  These are the ideals that inspired the New Deal and Great Society; and it is these ideals that I hope to work towards while in office.  People with developmental disabilities must enjoy these same rights and our government must work to provide them with these same opportunities.  While the ADA is a global standard in disabilities protections, we must always strive to do more; to learn more about what such individuals need and to experiment with better means by which we can provide them with the support they need.

 

District Eight

 

(Republican) Agha Khan

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

(Democrat) US Congressman Albio Sires

Pending

 

District Nine

(Republican) Hector Castillo

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

(Democrat) US Congressman Bill Pascrell

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

 

 

District Ten

(Republican) David Pinckney

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

(Democrat) US Congressman Donald Payne, Jr.

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

 

 

District Eleven

 

(Republican) US Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

(Democrat) Joe Wenzel

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

 

 

District Twelve

(Republican) Steven Uccio

As of press time, no responses have been submitted by the candidate

U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman(Democrat) US Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman

Question One:

Federal Funding for Disability Support
The United States lacks a comprehensive, sustainable approach to financing long-term care services.  That is why I fully believe that Medicaid, SSI, SSDI must be protected and kept fully intact to provide the critical safety net for individuals who depend on these programs.  These priorities are reflected in my voting records as well as my leadership both when I was a member of the New Jersey General Assembly and now as the 12th Congressional representative on the Federal level.  My record reflects the importance I have always placed on fully funding assistance programs, no matter how many times my Republican counterparts have tried to dismantle these critical programs.

 

Question Two:

Direct Support Professional Wages
It has been almost a decade since Congress passed a minimum wage increase, and the last increase came at a time when our nation was facing a recession.  We need to be supporting DSPs and all working families by supporting livable wages coupled with continual skill trainings.  Earning a livable wage with overtime protections and collective bargaining rights will create a healthy economy, better trained DSPs and provide greater safety and well-being for persons with ID/DD.

 

Question Three:

The Use of Restraints and Seclusion in our Schools
Restraint and seclusion in schools should be reserved for absolute emergency situations, not used as routine punishment for harmless infractions or insubordination. The current patchwork of state laws has proven inadequate to protect students from these abusive practices, which is why federal intervention is necessary. I was proud to support the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires states to develop strategies to reduce their use of restraint or seclusion for children, and I will continue to support any federal initiatives that further end this practice.

 

Question Four:

Employment First
Our federal dollars should be investing into more job opportunities and job trainings that are accessible for all – including vulnerable populations systematically placed in disadvantageous positions.  We must be encouraging the hiring of all populations while incentivizing and rewarding those companies with fair and equitable hiring policies.

We also must prioritize equity for all students so that every person entering the workforce has the same opportunities.  Ensuring equal access to jobs starts with equal educational opportunities.  Currently, the federal government is not fulfilling its commitment to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and I support fully appropriating the funding formula for special needs students.

 

Question Five:

Transportation
People with ID/DD continue to face considerable barriers to their full integration and maximum independence in society. Many of these barriers are a result of our public transportation system and the challenges people with DD have in getting from one place to another.  Through a federal and state partnership, we have a responsibility to our residents in the creation of an accessible, reliable mass transit infrastructure with affordable service both rail and road.

 

Question Six:

Vision for the Future
People with developmental disabilities should be afforded the opportunities to succeed as contributing members of our society through education and employment.  I support appropriations that prioritize federal education funds for critical formula grant programs like IDEA and mandatory funding.  I support increased job trainings and opport

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