I had the opportunity in March to testify on the proposed state Budget before the Assembly and Senate Appropriations Committees. Even in years with good economies (2019 being one), to me they’re a heartbreaking exercise as there is never enough funding available to even come close to sufficiently supporting all of the worthy functions people rely upon. So the hearings are less an examination of state revenue and expenditures, and more a conga line of school children, library directors, head-injured youngsters, harried commuters, and people with developmental disabilities, among many, many others, pleading with legislators to mitigate or restore cuts to their noble programs. Some Assembly and Senate members have spoken of how helpful they find the Budget Public Hearings, feeling that they make them aware of the needs of the folks toiling in the trenches. Instructive as they may be, it must be equally frustrating for these stewards of the public purse to have to tell their constituents “no” or “maybe next year.”
By comparison, the standing of those struggling with addictions in these proceedings is greatly improved over the light in which their needs were viewed even just a few years ago. When an addiction disorder was seen as a sin, those affected could be disregarded. Now, with the general understanding that what we’re dealing with is an illness, most policy makers want to be helpful rather than dismissive, or even contemptuous. Consequently, budget testimony can be one of calls to fund new programs and to enhance existing ones with a record of success.
* The NJ Department of Human Services has recently awarded one-time grants of $100,000 to peer-operated recovery community centers in each of three counties (Warren, Sussex and Atlantic). These are in addition to existing ones in Camden and Passaic counties. As welcome as these projects are, they are time-limited steps that do not entirely ensure long-term sustainability. These community centers provide a valuable oasis for many seeking to maintain recovery.
* I was pleased that Governor Phil Murphy proposed renewing the $100m allotment to projects that do battle with the opioid epidemic.
* Given the prevalence of the co-occurring maladies of mental health and substance use disorders among the majority of people struggling with behavioral health issues, initiatives within the NJ Department of Human Services ought to be fully supported.
* Recovery coach programs have enjoyed large acceptance just in the last couple of years. They are examples of peer-driven solutions that should receive strong budgetary support from the state.
* The state is on the threshold of enacting legislation to more completely implement the promise of parity. Insurance plans must ensure they cover behavioral health on a par with the manner in which they reimburse for physical care, in order for policies to be sold to consumers in the state. The NJ Department of Banking and Insurance should receive whatever modest appropriation necessary for it to enforce parity requirements.
Having heard from the public, the Budget Committees will next receive input from Cabinet members as to the needs of each of their departments. Following that, the legislators themselves will deliberate on the final ingredients and parameters of the state Budget which must, as constitutionally mandated, be adopted by July 1.
Ed Martone, Policy Analyst