Morris County Surrogate Heather Darling was joined by Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce (NJ-26) in demanding that Governor Phil Murphy provide a definitive date on when the state will reinstate employment programs for people with disabilities. Gov. Phil Murphy’s order on September 2nd to restore programs that employed thousands of individuals with disabilities until they were shut down in March under the Governor’s COVID-19 state of emergency directives leaves the question on when this will happen.
Surrogate Darling sent a letter two weeks ago demanding the Governor and Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo reinstate the programs, and she was joined in that campaign by Assemblywoman DeCroce.
Governor Murphy, joined by Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin said that the state will provide federal CARES Act funding for the reopening of 26 sheltered workshop programs throughout the state. These crucial programs provide employment, job, and skills training to people with disabilities.
“As the Governor has finally lifted some other COVID-19 related restrictions, now it is of critical importance that the Governor allow the disabilities community, too often discriminated against, to return to the jobs that offer them substantial fulfillment,” said Surrogate Darling. “It is crucial that citizens with disabilities be permitted to return to work and resume productive lives along with all citizens in New Jersey as the state reopens.”
Assemblywoman DeCroce, a long-time advocate in the Legislature for individuals with disabilities, argued that it made no sense to exclude people in the supported employment programs from the gradual reopening being permitted throughout the rest of the state.
“The lives of people in the disabilities community have been equally impacted, if not more so, by the pandemic and executive orders affecting us all. It is crucial that they be able to return to work and resume as much of a normal life as every other citizen in New Jersey as the state reopens,” said DeCroce.
Nearly 3,000 individuals with disabilities were displaced on March 17 from jobs made available to them by contracts issued through supported employment programs overseen by the NJDOL with cooperation of the state Department of Human Services. Most of the positions remained open throughout the pandemic, and the workers with disabilities were not permitted to return to their jobs, Darling explained.
Victor Miller, the father of one of Employment Horizons’ program participants “Employment Horizons is our daughter’s world. She went to work every day before the pandemic and it’s where she had friends. Our daughter is disabled and has meaningful work at Employment Horizons which she misses every day. We urge the Governor to please re-open her place of work! It is so important for her and our entire family.”
Still, Surrogate Darling and Assemblywoman DeCroce expressed concern that CARES funding was being used to reinstate the employment program because the programs are already supposed to be funded through the NJDOL budget, which is financed largely by federal employment dollars.
“These are already funded, existing workforce programs,” Surrogate Darling explained, adding that she is concerned the reopening of the programs will be conditioned on continued CARES funding.
“Let’s get the disabilities community back to work in the jobs they were so successful in. The companies who contract with these programs rely on the great service provided by these individuals with disabilities, they are proud of their jobs and accomplishments,” Darling concluded.