At first hearing on $32B budget plan, N.J. lawmakers focus on health care

The New Jersey Assembly held the first legislative hearing Wednesday on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed $32 billion budget. The focus was on funding for health-care services.

Those who oversee services for the mentally and developmentally disabled were pleased the budget provides about $35 million for new programs.

Offering more local services on an outpatient basis makes a lot of sense, says Debra Wentz, the CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies.

“It means a drastically reduced need for emergency room visits and hospitalizations and, as a result, dramatic fiscal savings amounting to billions of dollars each year,” Wentz said.

Officials with the ARC of New Jersey urged the state to give a 3 percent increase in aid to service providers that have not seen an increase in four years.

The Health Care Association called for increased reimbursement for nursing homes. Without that increase, it’s feared some could go out of business.

Jennifer Nix of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault wants the $900,000 in the budget for rape prevention to be increased to the $1 million level it was before 2010 budget cuts.

“Our programs are struggling to keep our doors open at this point and we are, in fact, losing programs,” Nix said. “New Jersey spends 10 cents per person on sexual violence services, and it’s really just not enough.”

Assembly Budget Committee chairman Vinny Prieto, D-Hudson, says Wednesday’s testimony will have an influence on the budget that will be enacted by the end of June.

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