State agency want families to ‘survive and thrive’

New Jersey Department of Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman

Human Services department helped people through COVID

By Albert J. Countryman Jr.

New Jersey Department of Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman and her staff at the state’s largest agency went through a lot in three years as they helped struggling families get through COVID.

But even as the virus wanes, the department looks forward to making sure all residents stay healthy.

“Leading through the pandemic has meant we’ve been laser focused on making sure New Jersey families have access to the fundamental things they need to survive and thrive,” Adelman said.

“I’m deeply grateful to work with a wonderful team and community who share a vision and mission to provide life-enhancing services to others,” she added. “COVID impacted our employees, operations, partners, and the two million residents we serve.

“No one was immune to this pandemic and it was a really challenging time.”

As for getting through COVID, “We modified and adapted our programs and expanded services anywhere and everywhere we could,” Adelman explained, “to serve people the best way possible and to continue supporting our local government partners and community providers.

“Our top priority was to make sure everyone remained safe and healthy (during COVID) and to do everything possible to support that goal.”

The Human Services department serves about 2.1 million residents, Adelman said, including approximately half of all state children. Its programs and services include help for individuals and families with low incomes; seniors; people with developmental disabilities; and the blind, visually impaired, deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf blind.

Parental support is in the form of child care; child support and or health care for their children; services for addiction and mental-health needs; help for families facing catastrophic medical expenses for their kids; and assistance to immigrants and refugees.

“Our goal is always to serve people the best way possible,” Adelman noted. “We want to make sure we are maintaining and strengthening our current programs while using all available resources to enhance and expand services.

“We are focused on improving maternal and infant care to make New Jersey the safest place to have and raise a baby.”

As for affordability, the department is working on lowering the cost of child care for families, prescription drugs and hearing aids for seniors. Human Services has already made significant investments in the health-care and social-services workforce, which includes home health care and addiction treatment.

“I am incredibly grateful that Gov. Phil Murphy’s 2024 budget plan includes major investments to support our work in each of these focus areas,” Adelman said.

The agency is also focused on helping those struggling with addiction to get into recovery programs.

“Mental health and addiction services have been and continue to be a top priority of mine and at our department,” Adelman pointed out. “And the pandemic, not just in New Jersey but nationwide, increased people’s need for services and exacerbated many challenges.”

Human Services has made significant investments in mental-health care, including providing funding increases to community providers, working to create more community placements for individuals with mental-health concerns and providing incentives to increase the number of psychiatrists in the state.

The department has partnered with the state attorney general on ARRIVE Together, a program that partners law enforcement with mental-health professionals for related 911 calls. Adelman also pointed out the launch of a 24/7 988 suicide and crisis lifeline that connects people with support and resources.

Human Services has also initiated new programs to expand counseling and access to medication that treats addiction, improve prevention among young adults and ensure access to the opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone (or Narcan). Adelman chairs a special council formed by Murphy to oversee the state’s use of more than $640 million in opioid settlement funds.

Another focus is to make sure residents have health insurance.

“One of my top priorities has been to ensure that every child in New Jersey has access to health-care coverage through our program, Cover All Kids,” Adelman pointed out. “I urge anyone in need of health coverage to visit to learn more.”

As for child care and food assistance for struggling families, she said that Murphy signed a new law last month ensuring every household enrolled in SNAP food assistance in New Jersey will receive at least $95 per month to help with groceries.

The federal minimum benefit is $23 per month, and New Jersey has now become the first state to provide that assistance.

“We also know child care plays a major role in New Jersey’s economic recovery and success,” Adelman remarked.

With federal COVID relief aid, the department has provided an additional $500 million in the current fiscal year to support families and strengthen the child-care industry through stabilization grants, bonus payments for child-care workers and higher provider payments.