Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

NJ SAYS NO DISABILITY SERVICES:

July 16, 2009

HIDES BEHIND THE 11TH AMENDMENT

Ethan B. Ellis

 Samuel Johnson, 18th century British commentator, wordsmith and wit, described patriotism as the last refuge of scoundrels, referring to rascals who hid behind the flag when doing dirty deeds.

 Let me nominate some other candidates, no less scurrilous: the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and those who hide behind it to deny services to people with disabilities in New Jersey…yes, I mean the Corzine Administration. Let me explain.

 Disability Rights NJ, our Protection and Advocacy System, has filed three suits against Corzine for failing to provide legally required services to people with developmental disabilities on community waiting lists and in developmental centers and people kept in psychiatric hospitals illegally. A year ago, Corzine broke off negotiations to settle the suits on the grounds that he didn’t have enough money to obey the law. As one wag put it, he’d rather spend the money to pay his lawyers than buy the services people need.

 That’s where the 11th Amendment comes in. The first argument his lawyers made is that Disability Rights NJ and the people with disabilities it represents can’t sue the state because the amendment says so.

 Now, what the amendment really says is that the citizens of one state can’t sue another state. The amendment has a long and checkered past, but it’s worth looking at because states have been using it a lot in cases involving people with disabilities.

 Adopted hastily in 1798, it was intended to protect states that had gone bankrupt during the American Revolution from being sued by people from other states for money those states owed them. Ever since, the U.S. Supreme Court has been trying to make up its mind what the amendment really means. Almost 200 years ago, it actually said it meant that citizens couldn’t sue their own states, but it hasn’t stuck to that interpretation consistently, especially when it applies to disability law.

 In 1999, the court allowed two citizens of Georgia to successfully sue the state to get out of an institution there in the famous Olmstead case, which upheld the constitutionality of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA), prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. Two years later, it turned around and refused to let two state employees sue Alabama for employment discrimination (Alabama University vs. Garrett), based on the opposite reading of the amendment.

 This time it argued that the ADA didn’t apply to the states because there was no evidence that they had a history of discriminating against us. When activists pointed out that the legislative history of the law was filled with testimony about state discrimination against people with disabilities, newspaper editorials all over the country blasted the Garrett decision and the court reversed itself within a week, letting stand a silly suit by a blind prisoner in Illinois who had won the right to turn his jail into a country club on the grounds that he was just asking for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

 Introducing the 11th Amendment claim as a defense in the waiting list suit has done two things: it has delayed the settlement of the suit even further and it has brought the Obama Justice Department into the case to argue against its applicability. While we welcome the support of the Justice Department, that may also extend the delays and justice delayed is justice denied.

All’s fair in love and law, but the fact that lawyers for the State of New Jersey are trying to get the ADA declared unconstitutional just so they can avoid serving us is despicable. Tell Corzine and his Attorney General to stop hiding behind this discredited legal argument; tell them to stop hiding behind the last refuge of scoundrels. Go to the Next Step Take Action page and send them a message that even they can’t misread.

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Victory on CIL Cuts

June 30, 2009

 VICTORY!!

NJ BUDGET PASSES – NO CIL CUTS!

 On May 14th, more than 200 of us rallied in front of the Statehouse in Trenton to protest cuts in funding for Centers for Independent Living in Governor Jon Corzine’s 2010 budget. When the Governor signed the budget on June 29, the cuts were gone!

 To chants of “No Cuts” and “We Want Corzine,” the riled-up crowd listened to New Jersey’s disability leaders challenge the folly of trying to fill a $3 billion budget hole with the measly $125,000 cut proposed for the centers. As one speaker said, “Corzine has already poured that much money into his state SUV trying to get re-nominated.”

 While the cuts may have appeared small, they would have cost each affected center one full-time staff position. While that’s a sad commentary on New Jersey’ commitment to people with disabilities, that’s a fight for another day.

 Right now, it’s time to celebrate:

 WE WON! YOU WON! THEY WON!

 All of us who showed up for the demonstration learned an important lesson…or re-learned it if we had forgotten. When we all work together, all things are possible.

 All of you who were there got to experience the power that collective action generates. I can’t speak for you, of course, but it completely re-charged my batteries.

 And, finally, many people with disabilities will be served who would not have been if we hadn’t stopped the cuts, people who will join us as we continue to work for change

 

 

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Casualties of the State Budget Crisis

May 21, 2009

2,400 people will be deprived of their freedom for another year because of the state’s continuing fiscal crisis.

Their only crime? When they were young, somebody hung a label on them that said “Mentally Retarded” and sent them to an institution where they didn’t belong.

 Many of them have been locked up in those places for twenty, thirty even forty years. During that time, they’ve had to live with people they didn’t choose, eat what and when someone else told them to, get up and go to bed at the convenience of others, often with the lights on and the TV blaring 24/7 year after year.

Ten years ago, the Supreme Court said they didn’t belong there and told the state to free them as soon as it could. During those times of plenty, the state dragged its feet to avoid meeting its responsibility to these people, some of its most vulnerable citizens, freeing as few of them as it could get away with.

It missed a real opportunity to do well by doing good. You see, it spends a quarter of a million dollars for each person in those places each year and only $80,000 to support them in the community. For a one-time start-up cost of $10 million, it could have saved itself twice that much every year just by freeing them.

Then, a couple of years ago, the state’s budget problems began to loom large and the trickle of people leaving the DCs slowed to a drip. Money already appropriated wasn’t spent; the state, which had been sued by Disability Rights NJ to free them, said it no longer had money to negotiate in good faith and spent it on lawyers, not on freedom.

There’s even less money this year and next year will be worse.

When I was younger, I supported the state when it closed Johnstone and North Princeton DCs. After they closed, I spent a lot of time serving on countless task forces, writing white papers analyzing the political and economic benefits of closing the remaining developmental centers, once more doing the state’s job for it.

No more. The state has a moral and legal obligation to free these people and give them the opportunity to live the rest of their lives with the dignity they deserve as human beings. How it does that is its problem. 

Making sure it does is my problem and the problem of every other person with a conscience in New Jersey. Please join me with your ideas about how to make that happen.

Casualties of the State Budget Crisis

May 21, 2009

2,400 people will be deprived of their freedom for another year because of the state’s continuing fiscal crisis.

 Their only crime? When they were young, somebody hung a label on them that said “Mentally Retarded” and sent them to an institution where they didn’t belong.

 Many of them have been locked up in those places for twenty, thirty even forty years. During that time, they’ve had to live with people they didn’t choose, eat what and when someone else told them to, get up and go to bed at the convenience of others, often with the lights on and the TV blaring 24/7 year after year.

 Ten years ago, the Supreme Court said they didn’t belong there and told the state to free them as soon as it could. During those times of plenty, the state dragged its feet to avoid meeting its responsibility to these people, some of its most vulnerable citizens, freeing as few of them as it could get away with.

 It missed a real opportunity to do well by doing good. You see, it spends a quarter of a million dollars for each person in those places each year and only $80,000 to support them in the community. For a one-time start-up cost of $10 million, it could have saved itself twice that much every year just by freeing them.

Then, a couple of years ago, the state’s budget problems began to loom large and the trickle of people leaving the DCs slowed to a drip. Money already appropriated wasn’t spent; the state, which had been sued by Disability Rights NJ to free them, said it no longer had money to negotiate in good faith and spent it on lawyers, not on freedom.

 There’s even less money this year and next year will be worse.

 When I was younger, I supported the state when it closed Johnstone and North Princeton DCs. After they closed, I spent a lot of time serving on countless task forces, writing white papers analyzing the political and economic benefits of closing the remaining developmental centers, once more doing the state’s job for it.

 No more. The state has a moral and legal obligation to free these people and give them the opportunity to live the rest of their lives with the dignity they deserve as human beings. How it does that is its problem.

 Making sure it does is my problem and the problem of every other person with a conscience in New Jersey. Please join me with your ideas about how to make that happen.

BUDGET MAGIC: NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T

May 12, 2009

On May 18th, Governor Corzine, supported by both New Jersey Senators, will host an Open House at the Trenton War Memorial from 8:45 am to 1 pm explain what our state is doing with our share of the American  Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the federal stimulus package. He’s afraid to do it alone.

 The money is supposed to be spent to create jobs and services to improve the economy. However, rumor has it that Corzine is just going to dump the money into the bottomless pit of the state’s budget deficit and none of us will benefit from it as Obama and Congress intended.

 I’ll be there to ask questions and find out if any of that money will trickle down to benefit those of us with disabilities as it’s supposed to or whether he’ll just use it so he and his rich friends can continue to enjoy the 30% tax cut Governor Whitman gave them 14 years ago.

Please join me and add to the fun. Just email the Governor’s Office and tell ‘em you’ll be there. I’ll save you a seat.

THE BUDGET GAME – Get it? Got it. Good!

April 16, 2009

Here’s how it works. The Governor throws out a whole bunch of budget cuts, people yell and he takes back the ones that the most people yell about because he’s up for election next year. I got it when so many folks complained about cuts in their homeowners’ rebates that he pulled back on the cuts that affected the most voters.

What a civics lesson! The question is: What are those of us with disabilities going to learn from it? Try this!

Lesson One: Corzine’s budget would cut us to pieces. People with developmental disabilities, especially the 2,400 who are locked up in institutions against the law will still be denied their freedom because of their disability label…and because Corzine doesn’t think it’s worth the money to free them.

Independent Living Centers will be cut, too, as I said in my previous post. So will other programs vital to the lives and well-being of people with disabilities. I’ll get to those in future posts but you can beat me to it by commenting about them here.

Lesson Two: (a quick one) The Governor and his campaign don’t think we count at the ballot box or they wouldn’t have hurt us so much in his budget.

Lesson Three: We do count. The percentage of registered voters with disabilities in New Jersey is the highest in the nation. NEXT STEP veterans saw to that when they registered 20,000 new voters and we’ll be registering more this year.

We’re one-fifth of the state’s population. If we vote together, if we vote our own interests like other groups do, we can decide who the next governor of New Jersey is, particularly in an election that is as close as next year’s will be. Yes, that’s really possible.

Get it? Got it. Good!

THE BUDGET: DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS

April 16, 2009

Recently I was approached by a woman who wanted to sell the Corzine Administration on an idea that would benefit people with disabilities. She was new to advocacy and the politics game so I was patient.

I explained that we were in a life and death struggle just to prevent existing programs from being slashed so this was no time to ask for something new. “But,” she said, “I just listened to his budget speech. He promised to protect the most vulnerable. He mentioned people with disabilities specifically.”

“Yeah, I know,” I replied, my mind racing to figure out how to let her down gently.

Corzine’s budget is out and advocates are poring over its many pages of tiny numbers (in more ways than one) to figure out how bad it looks for people with disabilities. Until it is passed and signed in June, we’ll blog a lot on the bad news and what we can do to change it. I hope all of you who are fighting the good fight will join in. We need to unite as never before to avoid disaster; sharing the latest information and analysis is the first step.

Let me start off with a small cut that shows what we’re up against. Corzine proposes to help fill his seven billion dollar deficit by cutting the state’s meager contribution to Centers for Independent Living from $625,000 to $500,000, a reduction of $125,000 or 20%.

There are twelve of these centers. They’re the last hope for many of NJ’s 1.3 million citizens with the most severe disabilities. They help them find whatever they need to survive: medical care, meals, places to live, jobs, transportation to get to them. They also teach them how to maximize their own independence, everything from managing money to buying and cooking their own food to tying a shoelace with one hand.

I ran one of these centers a couple of years ago, with $265,000 of combined federal and state money to serve 1,638,200 people in three counties – that’s about seven and a half cents a person, not much to stave off desperation, much less keep someone alive.

And Corzine wants to cut this program by 20%! Come on! He made more than that in a week at Goldman-Sachs.

We have to stop this kind of outrage. Go to NEXT STEP’s Take Action page and send him a message, with copies to your State Senator and Assemblypersons. Make him keep his promise to New Jersey’s most vulnerable. Tell him you’ll be watching to make sure he does.

Guv Ignores People with Disabilities

April 16, 2009

Since one out five New Jersey’s citizens has a disability, you’d think Governor Corzine would want to hear what we have to say. Not so.

Visit his website, and you’ll find a drop-down menu that will let you express your opinion of twenty-odd topics, everything from the lottery to arts and leisure, BUT NOT ‘DISABILITY’, not even an “Other’ that would let you fill in the blank.

New York’s Governor lets you choose between Disability and Civil Rights and the other three states surrounding us offer an Other as a minimum.

And its not as it Corzine doesn’t know any better. Over the last three years NEXT STEP has brought this omission to the attention of three of his commissioners, his IT guys and, recently, to his campaign director, Maggie Moran. They all scribbled furiously on their notepads, made a lot of promises and … NOTHING.

BE HEARD! Go to NEXT STEP’s Take Action webpage and tell Corzine to listen to us. Tell his campaign that your vote and ours depends on it. Just put your name and address on an email with this message and we’ll throw in a copy to your State Senator and Assemblypersons as a bonus.

First Post

April 16, 2009
One out of five Americans has a disability, but we’re still not recognized as a political voice at the state and national level. This was clear in the recent Presidential campaign when Next Step surveyed the websites of the seven major candidates of both parties and found only one, Obama’s, listed disability as a major issue.

It’s equally true in my home state of New Jersey. Our governor, Jon Corzine, has been tone deaf to our issues as a whole, though he paid lip service to the needs of people with developmental disabilities, particularly those with autism.

His transition team on disability was dominated by them, even though they make up only 10% of the disability population. Nevertheless, he even ignored this group so Next Step had to sue to force him to appoint people with disabilities to the NJ Council on Developmental disabilities as required by state and federal law.

During the last year, his Administration has broken off negotiations with Disability Rights New Jersey in three suits involving rights and services of people with disabilities. In addition, his proposed budget would further reduce supports we desperately need.

NEXT STEP has started the CorzineWatchBlog because our troubled economy is hurting us more than others and New Jersey’s Administration doesn’t seem to care. Since state government is where most disability services come from, we must keep up the pressure if we are to survive. Please use this blog to let us know what battles we need to take on together.