N.J. settles suits over services, housing for people with intellectual disabilities
February 27, 2013By Maiken Scott
The state of New Jersey has settled two lawsuits filed to demand better services and housing for people with intellectual disabilities.
In his budget address Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie promised more financial resources -- and a new approach to serving this population.
One of the suits claimed that New Jersey was denying people with intellectual disabilities their right to live in the least restrictive setting possible. Christie, who mentioned this suit during his budget speech, promised to end this chapter in the state's history.
"We have institutionalized more citizens than any other state in America other than Texas. It is shameful, it is ineffective, and, in this administration, it is ending," said Christie after telling the audience that the 8-year-old suit had been settled.
Joseph Young and the group "Disability Rights New Jersey" brought the suits. Under the settlement, people who want to leave residential facilities will be able to move into supported community settings over the next five years, he said. Money saved by closing more expensive residential facilities will be invested in community support services.
Many of those living in residential facilities have been very isolated, Young said.
"Your only association is other people with disabilities and staff. There's no opportunity for employment, there is very little opportunities to interact with the community," he said. "So you are just not part of society."
The second suit concerned the long waiting list intellectually disabled people get stuck on when asking for support services. Christie promised more resources to cut wait times.
That promise is a good start, said Celine Fortin of the advocacy organization ARC New Jersey.
"There is a backlog and, obviously, the new money in the budget won't entirely take care of the waiting list or the people in developmental centers who are waiting," she said. "But it does take a chunk of those folks, being able to start making plans for them."
Advocates say the wait list for services was, at times, up to 8,000 people long.