– We are honored to be joined by the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Sarah Adelman.
Sarah, good to have you with us.
– Hey, Steve, it’s good to be with you.
– Commissioner, let me ask you this.
When it comes to federal dollars, I’m gonna jump right into this, because we’ve had several guests today different areas whether it’s child care, education, mental health issues, “Hey, you know, the Feds gave New Jersey so much money as it relates to COVID, they’re sitting on that money.”
Explain to folks what federal money is in your department and whether those dollars are being expended, and if not, why not?
– It’s a great question and an important one, because in our department, Human Services, our programs are supporting New Jerseyans across their lifespan from child care all the way through aging and senior services, and individuals across New Jersey needed services and supports, many for the first time, as a result of the pandemic.
And so all of this federal funding that we were receiving in New Jersey was one of our top priorities to be able to get that out to the folks who most need it.
And that has been a focus of ours over the three-year public health emergency.
At Human Services, we have programs in mental health and addiction services, disability services, food assistance, child care assistance, aging and senior services, disability services.
You know, the list goes on and on.
We’re also the state New Jersey Family Care/Medicaid Agency.
We administer Medicaid benefits in New Jersey.
So there are lots of ways that we’ve been directly delivering benefits to New Jersey households and individuals since the beginning of the emergency.
As an example, New Jersey SNAP, our food assistance benefits program, we have been able to deliver more than $3 billion in additional assistance throughout the public health emergency because of a lot of the federal funds that we received.
The same thing in Medicaid for instance.
We are now serving 30% more individuals who are covered in New Jersey’s Medicaid program since before the public health emergency.
So there are lots of ways across all of our programs that we’re delivering direct services and benefits to folks.
– So let’s do this.
We’re gonna put up the website for the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
But I’m curious about this, as it relates to the issue of food insecurity, how much worse is the food insecurity situation because of inflation?
– Well, there were kind of across the board economic impacts to New Jersey households as a result of COVID-19, and food security is definitely one of those areas.
Feeding America estimates that there are about 650,000 food insecure individuals here in New Jersey.
But we definitely saw an increase in the need for assistance benefits throughout the last three years.
Our SNAP enrollment went up about 40% over the course of the public health emergency.
– And to be clear, SNAP is what was previously known to be food stamps.
– That’s right.
– It’s gone up.
The number of people signing up for SNAP gone up dramatically?
– We had about a 40% increase over the public health emergency.
And the role of your department in that regard?
Be specific so people can understand what you do.
– So in food security, there are a number of ways people can get food assistance in New Jersey.
One of them is SNAP Food Assistance.
When you sign up and receive benefits for SNAP you receive an EBT card that you can use at the grocery store.
– I know in government there are a fair number of acronyms.
What is that card and what does it stand for?
– That’s right, it’s an electronic benefits card.
It works just like a credit card.
You can use it at the grocery store, it has your SNAP benefits on it, and you can use it directly to purchase groceries.
And one of the things that we did that was really important during COVID was that we also were able to expand access for online grocery shopping and delivery using SNAP cards, as well.
So, here at DHS, you sign up for SNAP, you receive your benefits, and, you know, there are other ways that people can get support too across government.
There are food banks and food pantries.
Some individuals may be eligible for WIC or other assistance benefit programs that also- – I’m sorry, WIC?
– Women, infants and children?
– That’s right, and it’s administered in the Department of Health here in New Jersey.
There are a variety of ways that individuals can get food assistance benefits here in our state.
– Let’s do this, let’s talk.
By the way, I am struck by the number of acronyms in government.
But the need for us, those of us in the media, to help people interpret what that means it can be a lot of inside jargon.
Let’s talk about child care.
Our initiative Reimagine Child Care, the website will go up right now.
What is the role of the New Jersey Department of Human Services as it relates to helping to provide accessible, affordable, quality child care, particularly for those who are struggling financially?
– Child care is so critical to economic success in our state and across the nation.
And we knew, as a result of COVID, that child care needed to be an area of focus, because a thriving child care system means a stronger economy.
It means more jobs, more inclusive economic growth.
It means better outcomes for our kids, and more support that is so vital to New Jersey families.
And so here at the Department of Human Services we have a program that helps families afford the cost of child care.
– What’s it called?
– It’s a child care assistance program, and it’s for families with lower incomes to help them afford the cost of their child care.
So you can visit our website, it’s ChildcareNJ.gov.
– Say it again.
– Go ahead.
– And that’s where families can go to find out if you’re eligible and to sign up for child care assistance benefits.
We pay your child care provider directly to help you with your child care costs.
And this is has been a tremendous area of focus for Governor Murphy and our administration in partnership with the legislature.
We have, since the beginning of Governor Murphy’s administration, added over a billion dollars in additional funding through our child care assistance program.
And we’ve more than doubled our infant and child care rates that we’re paying to providers to help expand access to more families and to build a broader network of providers participating in our program.
– The last area I wanna explore is mental health.
Now, mental health is not, issues of mental health they’re not dealt with in one state agency.
It’s multifaceted and there are a whole range of agencies and not-for-profits and others involved.
What is the role of your department as it relates to helping to increase access to mental health services for those who have a very hard time accessing mental health services?
– We are the state’s lead mental health and addiction agency that serves adults.
So as you said, there are different access points across government depending on the individual and what their needs are.
But here at Human Services, we have been really focused on helping build the provider network across New Jersey.
The social services providers that you talked about, the psychiatrists, and psychologists, and clinicians across the state that are available to serve individuals in all of their mental health needs and in addressing their addiction needs.
– So if someone goes on the website, I’m sorry for interrupting, someone goes on the website, it’s not you’re gonna provide them a mental health professional, but can you direct them to an organization that could help?
– Absolutely, we have a hotline for individuals needing addiction support, it’s R-E-A-C-H-N-J.
– That’s right.
And also through our website, folks can access information about mental health providers across the state.
Of course, we always encourage any individuals experiencing thoughts of suicide or suicidal ideation or those concerned about a loved one to call 988.
We also oversee the 988 Lifeline System here in New Jersey and have, since last summer, worked to stand up that system in New Jersey so that there is always someone to call and somewhere to go for individuals who are in need of assistance.
– Commissioner, I wanna thank you for joining us.
We appreciate it.
– Thank you, Steve, good to see you.
– Good to see you.
Stay with us we’’ll be right back.
– [Narrator] Think Tank with Steve Adubato has been a production of the Caucus Educational Corporation.
Funding has been provided by The Turrell Fund, supporting Reimagine Childcare.
The New Jersey Education Association.
The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Choose New Jersey.
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.
The Adler Aphasia Center.
New Jersey Sharing Network.
And by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Promotional support provided by Meadowlands Media.
And by NJBIZ.
– At the Turrell Fund, We know childcare creates transformative early learning experiences for young children, and helps families succeed.
Childcare is essential for the economy, driving financial growth and sustainability across all sectors.
The Turrell Fund envisions a New Jersey in which every infant and toddler has access to high quality, affordable childcare In order to grow, develop and thrive.
Our children are our future.
For more information, visit TurrellFund.org.