The bill is receiving a warm response from some of these residents’ families, who say that the New Jersey group homes were ill prepared to serve their loved ones. The bill also allows those who’ve been required to live in New Jersey to move back to their out-of-state placements if their guardians request it. As of March, 170 people had transferred back to New Jersey, while 382 remained outside of the state, mostly in residential institutions.
The people with disabilities were placed outside of New Jersey, in some cases several decades ago, by the state government. Under a program named Return Home New Jersey, the state attempted to find group-home placements for all of them. Some families objected that group homes are unable to match the services provided at out-of-state residential facilities.
After Gov. Chris Christielast year that would have put a moratorium on transfers back into the state, family members and to the governor. In July, lawmakers and the administration announced an end to the forced transfers, but bill sponsors say that the legislation is needed to make the terms of that agreement permanent.
Sponsor Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) said it is “our responsibility to make sure that this becomes law and that the families placed out of state do not have to return.”
Huttle, who said she felt part of the “family” that supported the bill, credited the persistence of the residents’ parents and other family members for making a resolution possible.
Rita O’Grady noted that her son Tyler Loftus had become the “default poster child” for the end of forced transfers. This occurred after he was jailed for 19 days following his being evicted from a group home after he became violent. Tyler has autism and has been diagnosed with mental illness.
“This bill has so much meaning for us,” O’Grady said, adding that her son will be returning to Woods Services, a residential facility in Langhorne, PA.