New Jersey's largest provider of disability services wants to be heard Thursday in Trenton, setting up shop inside a busy state capitol building to talk about cuts and changes that are threatening its ability to provide care for individuals with mental health challenges and physical disabilities.

As part of the organization's advocacy week, Easterseals New Jersey has reserved a room in the State House Annex to meet with legislators about challenges faced at the nonprofit's 100+ sites throughout the Garden State.

Due to newer regulations affecting the way facilities are reimbursed for services, from a contract-based model to a fee-for-service model, the nonprofit's day programs have seen a significant decrease in funding from the state, according to Advocacy Manager Jacob Caplan.

"We've effectively seen our funding for this program cut for by 20%, but we're still expected to provide the same service," Caplan said. "We want to advocate with the legislators and work with them to increase those reimbursement rates, so that our day habilitation program can thrive again."

The program serves more than 500 New Jerseyans at nine sites, Caplan said.

Gov. Phil Murphy's proposed budget calls for an additional $10 million in funding for this type of programming in New Jersey, but it's not yet known how the money would be spent in terms of adjustments to the existing rate structure. Still, Easterseals NJ claims the $10 million is not enough to cover the shortfall impacting the nonprofit and similar organizations.

The state's final budget for Fiscal Year 2021 will be ironed out over the next few months.

Also included in the governor's proposal is an additional $21 million in funding for direct service professionals in the field — Easterseals NJ is also addressing DSP wages during its four-hour advocacy session Thursday morning and afternoon.

"We really need to address this issue so that our direct service professionals are able to earn a living wage, to be able to make ends meet in New Jersey, and be able to do the job they love without having to worry about putting food on the table or paying medical bills or paying tuition or paying for childcare," Caplan said.

The East Brunswick-based nonprofit is interested in getting DSP wage funding indexed to New Jersey's rising minimum wage. Starting out at a fast-food or retail establishment, the organization said, could bring in more money than working as a direct service professional.

At the advocacy event, Easterseals NJ is also specifically focusing on the need for legislation to create a more permanent regulatory structure for their integrated case management services program, which works with adults with mental health challenges.

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