First priority for disabled residents is jobs, Christie announces
New Jersey will shift its policy to emphasize employment for residents with disabilities, Gov. Chris Christie announced today.
"We're stating that as a policy of this government that folks with disabilities should be presumed to get employment first, not something less than that — that they should have every opportunity, based on their skills and talents … to be employed," Christie said.
New Jersey will be the 14th state to adopt this "employment first" policy. Christie said the Departments of Human Services and Labor and Workforce Development will be reviewing statutes and regulations to ensure that there aren't any barriers to employment.
For instance, a current program allows residents with disabilities to have jobs without losing their eligibility for Medicaid. The state's education, social services and transportation infrastructure also will be reviewed to ensure they support those with disabilities getting to work.
The governor emphasized that the policy is intended to change expectations.
"The benefits are there as the safety net, and work is there as their primary support," rather than the reverse, Christie said of the new policy.
Christie was joined by first lady Mary Pat Christie, who has advocated for services for those with disabilities.
Christie cited U.S. Department of Labor statistics that only 20.1 percent of people with disabilities participate in the labor force, in contrast to 69 percent of those without disabilities, while the unemployment rate is also worse, 15.2 percent to 8.1 percent.
The policy will be embraced by private-sector employers, according to New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Thomas A. Bracken, who said the chamber's foundation already supports job opportunities for residents with disabilities. It also supports the website DisabilitiesAtWork.org.
"What we've been doing now just gets a boost," Bracken said.