In Brief

State human services chief unconcerned about pandemic aid drying up

By: - April 20, 2023 3:55 pm

Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman also touted the success of New Jersey's Medicaid program, citing gains in pediatric coverage. (Courtesy of New Jersey Governor's Office)

New Jersey’s largest state agency won’t experience a fiscal cliff as federal funding afforded to the department begins to wind down, Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman told Senate lawmakers Thursday.

The department, which operates state Medicaid and food assistance programs, plus a slew of initiatives for those with developmental disabilities and mental health and addiction issues, received billions in pandemic aid beyond the $6.2 billion sent directly to the state. But it mostly avoided using those funds to stand up permanent programs, Adelman said during a budget hearing in Trenton.

“When you’re receiving a lot of one-time money, you want to think about how you use those funds strategically to build up an infrastructure that supports our needs now, supports our needs in the future, and doesn’t create spending cliffs for the state,” she said.

Gov. Phil Murphy has proposed appropriating nearly $9 billion to the Department of Human Services in the fiscal year that begins July 1, an increase of nearly $700 million from the current fiscal year.

The department plans to devote $172 million in state and federal funds to targeted wage assistance for nursing aides, child care providers, and behavioral health providers, among others, that had previously been paid for using federal pandemic funds.

Those industries faced staffing crises for much of the pandemic that were fueled, in part, by low wages that made workers easy for others to poach. The worker shortages have persisted as New Jersey moves out of the COVID-19 crisis.

“The health care workforce shortage is a major crisis that I think was exacerbated by the pandemic, leaving real implications for the thousands of New Jersey residents that rely on the care of direct care workers,” Sen. Doug Steinhardt (R-Warren) said Thursday.

Adelman also touted significant progress in the state’s “cover all kids” initiative, noting more than 10,000 children had joined NJ FamilyCare, the state’s Medicaid program, since the state removed immigration status as an eligibility requirement in January.

Nearly half of the children in the state now receive their health insurance from NJ FamilyCare, she said, but there are still some gaps in coverage.

“There are challenges in pockets around the state, not just for Medicaid but in general, where there are pediatric specialists that may not exist,” Adelman said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.