When I started at NJACP, one of my first goals was to increase member visibility and engagement with policymakers in both the Legislative and Executive branches as too often our community was “invisible” from an advocacy perspective. Who better to speak about the needs of our community than those that serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) every single day? NJACP’s members needed to be the voice of advocacy. What a difference just a few years make.
NJACP’s Board of Directors made advocacy its number one priority, supporting bringing key legislators to NJACP membership meetings, which has provided an opportunity for legislators to learn about who we are and give providers a voice. We have a number of legislators that have taken the time to meet with us such as U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, Senators Stephen Sweeney (Senate President, D-3) and Joe Vitale (Chairperson of the Senate Health and Human Services cmtee, D-19), Assemblymen Vince Prieto (Speaker of the Assembly, D-32), Dan Benson (Assembly Health cmtee, D-14), Jack Ciattarelli (R-16) and Gordon Johnson (D-37), Assemblywomen Shavonda Sumter (Assembly Health cmtee, D-35) and Valerie Huttle (Chairperson of the Assembly Human Services cmtee, D-37) and Gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy, among others.
To some legislators, it was the first substantive discussion they had regarding the IDD community. For those that are more knowledgeable, it was yet more support they were willing to provide. Such support is never taken for granted as we are rarely at the front of the line with campaign contributions. Moreover, community services are funded almost exclusively by Medicaid, which serves people with disabilities, the poor and children, not the most visible voting population. It is not surprising, therefore, that providers questioned if their advocacy would ever make a difference. Last year and this year we have learned our voices are being heard and with just a single phone call, we can change the course of legislation.
More recently, we called upon our membership to fight passage of the American Healthcare Act (ACA) that was scheduled for a vote in Congress. NJACP members overwhelmingly reached out to their representatives to ask them NOT to support this act given the devastating impact it would have on the IDD community. Moreover, members called upon friends and families to help with this effort. When faced with legislation that would have added layers of administrative procedures on an already onerous reporting system, NJACP members took to the phones and called the sponsor asking that he not post the bill. And finally, when we walked the halls of Trenton requesting funds to raise the wages of Direct Support Professionals (DSP’s), those on the front line of caring for individuals with IDD, they stepped up and accompanied us on our visit, making an incredibly compelling case as to why wages must be raised.
It is through the actions of our members that NJACP has become a well-recognized advocacy group and the outcome is that our voices have been raised and are being heard. Hats off to NJACP members for stepping up and joining with their Association to ensure the best possible environment in which to serve the IDD community.