Assembly Panel Approves Vainieri Huttle, Eustace, Gusciora & Lampitt Bill to End “Return Home NJ” Program

Bill Formalizes Agreement with Administration Not to Return Developmentally Disabled Residents Who Wish to Remain out-of-state to Receive the Care they Need

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Tim Eustace, Reed Gusciora and Pamela Lampitt to end the administration's practice of forcing developmentally disabled New Jersey residents living in out-of-state care facilities to return home against their wishes was approved by an Assembly panel on Monday.

"Essentially, this bill formalizes the agreement we had sought for quite a long time with the administration to end the program known as "Return Home New Jersey," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee. "As countless advocates and family members told us, this program was disruptive, dehumanizing and disadvantageous to their loved ones who had been receiving the specialized care they needed in out-of-state facilities for years. I'm grateful that they will no longer be forced to return against their will."

For many years, the state Department of Human Services (DHS) has placed New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities in out-of-state facilities due to a lack of services and support within the State of New Jersey. Through an initiative called Return Home New Jersey, DHS had been moving individuals who live in out-of-state residential facilities back to New Jersey. 

As of March 30, 2015, 170 individuals had been moved to in-state placements under the initiative and 382 remained in out-of-state placements. Vainieri Huttle and a number of other legislators lobbied extensively to halt the program and in July a compromise was reached with the governor that would prevent individuals from having to return to New Jersey against their will.

Specifically, the bill (A-4781) would prohibit the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) from transferring, or compelling the transfer of, an individual with a developmental disability who is currently residing in an out-of-state placement to a residential placement in New Jersey, if the individual or the guardian of the individual objects to such a transfer in writing.

"For years, many New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities were placed in out-of-state facilities because it was the only place where they could find the level of care they needed," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "These residential facilities provided the care they deserved and became home to them. This agreement will ensure they can continue on there as long as they'd like."

"It was cruel and completely illogical to force these residents to return to New Jersey, especially if they couldn't receive the individualized level of care they needed here," said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). "I'm glad everyone has finally gotten on the same page and agreed this practice shouldn't continue."

"For many of these patients, not only are they dependent on a certain level of care provided in these out-of-state facilities, but they also thrive on routines and familiarity," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "To upend all that, especially after years or even decades, would prove devastating. Thankfully, that won't happen now."

However, written objections to the transfer would not apply if:
· The U.S. Department of Justice, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or a federally-designated state protection and advocacy organization has deemed the out-of-state placement facility unsafe for individuals with developmental disabilities residing in the facility.
· The same out-of-state provider does not continue to serve the individual unless there is a change of provider is due solely to corporate or other organizational restructuring or DDD is unable to provide the individual with equivalent necessary services and supports in-state as the individual received out-of-state and those services and supports are available at another out-of-state provider.
· The individual or their guardian is not in compliance concerning contribution to care and maintenance requirements, within 90 days of the effective date of this bill, or the individual or guardian fails to continue to comply with these regulations for the duration of the out-of-state care of the individual. DDD must provide a payment schedule with reasonable minimum payments to each non-compliant individual or guardian within 60 days of the effective date of this bill and if the individual or guardian agrees in writing to the payment schedule, compliance within 90 days of the effective date of this act must be presumed.
· The individual is not enrolled in, or has not applied for enrollment in, the state Medicaid program within 90 days of the effective date of this bill.
· The out-of-state provider fails to transmit to DDD written reports of life safety oversight and copies of all relevant incident reports required by the law. DDD must provide notice to providers if the reporting requirements change. In the event a provider fails to transmit any relevant required report, DDD must give notice to the provider of the deficiency and the provider must have 30 days from the date of the notice to remediate the deficiency.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee, chaired by Vainieri Huttle, and now awaits final legislative approval by the full Assembly.