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Assembly committee proposes way to stretch, raise funds for brain-injury fund

Posted Feb 19 2010 12:00am
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Last updated: Thursday February 18, 2010, 7:33 PM
BY SUSAN K. LIVIO
State House Bureau
STATE HOUSE BUREAU
TRENTON - Faced with the prospect of 1,300 disabled people losing treatment and services, an Assembly committee today discussed how to stretch or raise more money for the Traumatic Brain Injury Fund.

To stay within the fund's $3.4 million annual budget, state officials have proposed restricting it to serve only people who have suffered a blow to the head, and excluding people who suffered a brain injury through a stroke, tumor or other trauma. Doing so would eliminate 60 percent, or about 1,300 of the 2,200 people who depend on the program to pay for rehabilitative services like speech, physical and occupational therapy.

Assembly Human Services Committee Chairwoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle said after the hearing she wanted the Department of Human Services look for ways to share administrative costs among other programs and more carefully scrutinize how money is spent by the disabled clients. She also said she was open to raising the 50-cent fee on car registrations that provides the fund with its source of revenue.

"We have to be fiscally responsible, but we also have to be socially responsible,'' Huttle said.

William Ditto, director of the state Office of Disability Services, which oversees the program, said without more money, the state had to find a way to live within the budget. Limiting the program to people who suffer brain trauma from a blow to the head best captures the Legislature's intent when it created the fund in 2001.

Ditto also explained there is a "system of checks and balances" with a panel that reviews every treatment plan. He noted that the program's rules allow the state to approve $15,000 a year in services, but the average plan runs about $6,000.

Ditto said an advisory committee and his staff looked for other ways to cut costs, including setting a tighter limit on what every participant may spend a year. They decided against it.

"If you dilute the find too much," he said, "it doesn't help anybody.''

People who rely on the fund pleaded with lawmakers to find an alternative to restricting the program.

Eunice Bustillo of River Edge, a 40-year-old mother who suffered a stroke seven years ago, said the fund pays for her treatment at the Adler Aphasia Center in Bergen County. Treatment has helped her regain her speaking, writing and reading skills.

"Every single day, I have really improved my reading, writing -- so many things,'' Bustillo said. "Please don't take that away from me. Is not all damage to the brain traumatic?''

TRENTON - Faced with the prospect of 1,300 disabled people losing treatment and services, an Assembly committee today discussed how to stretch or raise more money for the Traumatic Brain Injury Fund.

To stay within the fund's $3.4 million annual budget, state officials have proposed restricting it to serve only people who have suffered a blow to the head, and excluding people who suffered a brain injury through a stroke, tumor or other trauma. Doing so would eliminate 60 percent, or about 1,300 of the 2,200 people who depend on the program to pay for rehabilitative services like speech, physical and occupational therapy.

Assembly Human Services Committee Chairwoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle said after the hearing she wanted the Department of Human Services look for ways to share administrative costs among other programs and more carefully scrutinize how money is spent by the disabled clients. She also said she was open to raising the 50-cent fee on car registrations that provides the fund with its source of revenue.

"We have to be fiscally responsible, but we also have to be socially responsible,'' Huttle said.

William Ditto, director of the state Office of Disability Services, which oversees the program, said without more money, the state had to find a way to live within the budget. Limiting the program to people who suffer brain trauma from a blow to the head best captures the Legislature's intent when it created the fund in 2001.

Ditto also explained there is a "system of checks and balances" with a panel that reviews every treatment plan. He noted that the program's rules allow the state to approve $15,000 a year in services, but the average plan runs about $6,000.

Ditto said an advisory committee and his staff looked for other ways to cut costs, including setting a tighter limit on what every participant may spend a year. They decided against it.

"If you dilute the find too much," he said, "it doesn't help anybody.''

People who rely on the fund pleaded with lawmakers to find an alternative to restricting the program.

Eunice Bustillo of River Edge, a 40-year-old mother who suffered a stroke seven years ago, said the fund pays for her treatment at the Adler Aphasia Center in Bergen County. Treatment has helped her regain her speaking, writing and reading skills.

"Every single day, I have really improved my reading, writing -- so many things,'' Bustillo said. "Please don't take that away from me. Is not all damage to the brain traumatic?''
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