In his budget address last week, Gov. Chris Christie proposed closing the Vineland Developmental Center to reduce the state budget gap for this year and in future years.
Founded more than 100 years ago back in 1888, the Vineland Developmental Center, according to www.nj.gov/humanservices/ddd/home/centers/vineland, provides habilitation, behavioral and medical services and supports for women with developmental disabilities. As of Dec. 1 there were 400 residents at the center, and their average age was 54.
VDC is located on 257 acres in Vineland, land that could be very valuable commercially if it were to close. It has two campuses, which will be consolidated into one this year.
VDC employs more than 1,400 people. While this might seem like a large staff-to-resident ratio, one must remember that residents who live at the center include many people whose developmental disabilities are so profound that they could not live on their own. Many residents are basically wards of the state, as they have no family at all. Thus the staff has become their family.
Gov. Christie claims that closing the center would result in savings of $163,000 this fiscal year, $1.5 million next year, and almost $3 million in the years to come. But it is not clear if those figures include the cost to the Cumberland County economy of having 1,400 people losing their jobs and their state health benefits. Much of the supposed savings will be lost by higher costs to the state's safety net, from welfare to unemployment to foreclosures.
This closure will have a ripple effect on the economy of South Jersey. Companies that supplied the center with goods and equipment needed to run it on a daily basis – such as office supplies, soap, equipment repair, lawn and garden supplies, and building supplies – all of these suppliers will lose a good customer that paid its bills on time.
So what might be a short-term budget savings might well be a long-term disaster for its workers and their families, and for Vineland, Cumberland County and South Jersey.
The reality is that yes, once again, a Republican governor is trying to balance the state budget on the backs of the weakest and poorest among us. In recent speeches and television appearances, our governor has tried to distance himself somewhat from the more radical of his fellow governors, like Gov. Walker of Wisconsin. But this action, combined with his plan to shut down the state’s Urban Enterprise Zones, make it clear that the poor are the targets.
It is interesting how “shared sacrifice” to balance the budget doesn't include the very well-off, those folks earning a million dollars a year or more (you know Christie will veto the millionaires tax again this year). It would be good to know which group created more jobs in New Jersey last year, folks earning more than a million dollars a year, or small businesses situated in the UEZs.
How much business will a company like Art Handler's lose now that he won't be able to include half off sales tax as a selling point to compete with the Best Buys and other big-box stores? One of the main reasons for the formation of a UEZ was to give local small businesses the chance to compete on a more level playing field. If local small businesses did better, they could hire local workers, who would then be able to spend more locally. I don't know how well UEZs have performed around the state, but it seems that having the program has helped the UEZ towns of South Jersey more than not having it.
Our state senators and assemblymen have a real challenge in front of them to try to stop both of these closure plans. Jeff Van Drew is going to have to find a way to fight to save the Vineland Center. There is no way he can allow 1,400 people to lose their jobs. Folks, please call your state representatives and the governor. Tell them to find another way to cut the budget.
Remember: If the state can close Vineland down, then what is stopping Christie from closing down Woodbine Developmental Center or New Lisbon or Ancora next year to balance another budget? You better stop Christie now, before things get worse.
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