(TRENTON) – As New Jersey continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the State’s most vulnerable, especially people with disabilities and the elderly, have experienced the harshest ramifications of the virus.
In response to the impact of the COVID-19 emergency on the disability community, Javier Robles formed the New Jersey Disability Action Committee, a group of experts and disability advocates who have worked together to outline the obstacles impacting the disability community, issues that individuals with disabilities have long faced, many of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Working alongside the Disability Action Committee, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) is proposing a legislative package that addresses many of the recommendations in the Disability Action Committee’s 2020 report.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the vulnerability of the disability community, and the many ways in which the State must better serve our disabled residents,” said Vainieri Huttle. “More so, the Disability Action Committee’s report has demonstrated the need for the disability community to serve as a central voice when policies and decisions are being made. This legislative package aims to ensure that people with disabilities and their loved ones have a seat at the table.”
Javier Robles, Chair of the New Jersey Disability Action Committee strongly endorsed the legislative package. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable and most affected by this catastrophic virus. In addition, it has offered a renewed perspective on the importance of fighting for our lives by using all legal, legislative, and social means at our disposal. The New Jersey COVID-19 Disability Action Committee, a group of individuals with disabilities, parents, advocates, and organizations, has met for the past eight months to fight for these rights and to propose solutions to critical issues exposed during this pandemic for our community. We applaud Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle for putting forth this package of bills. It is a first step toward equalizing the playing field for people with disabilities and their families in the state of New Jersey.”
“We are pleased that Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle has introduced this package of legislation that will greatly empower people with disabilities in our state,” said Norman A. Smith, Chair of the New Jersey Statewide Independent Living Council and member of the Disability Action Committee. “The pandemic has revealed gaps in the way this state supports people with disabilities, especially during a disaster. These bills will give people with disabilities a greater voice in the planning of policies, programs, and responses that impact our lives.”
“Due to the unprecedented global COVID-19 health crisis, the disenfranchisement of healthcare, socioeconomics and education of vulnerable U S citizens has come to the fore,” said Sherlock Washington, advocate and member of the New Jersey COVID-19 Disability Action Committee. “Many of these citizens reside in the Blind and Visual Impaired community. The COVID-19 Disability Action Committee, Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle and many others have been instrumental in shining a light on these disparities with suggestions and advice to preserve and secure the essence of life to the disabled community.”
The nine bills, which were introduced today by Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle, include legislation to:
- Establish “Commission on People with Disabilities”;
- Create “Disability Life-Sustaining Measures Advisory Council;”
- Transfer New Jersey Group for Access and Integration Needs in Emergencies and Disasters from New Jersey Department of Human Services to New Jersey State Police, revise membership requirements, and require group to be consulted on certain matters;
- Concern manufacturing of clear masks and promotes public awareness of clear mask use during public health emergencies;
- Revise requirements for health insurers to cover telemedicine and telehealth; require telemedicine and telehealth systems to include accessible communication features for individuals with disabilities;
- Require hospitals to collect and report demographic data on people with disabilities who are tested or treated for COVID-19 during declared public health emergency;
- Require long-term care facilities to submit reports regarding residents with disabilities;
- Urges United States Department of Agriculture to authorize permanent use of SNAP benefits for online purchasing of foods, and;
- Urge the Office of Emergency Management to address the needs of people with disabilities before, during and after an emergency or disaster.
The bills now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.
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