Special-needs families in NJ and NY await word on pending 'aging out' bills

For the last 15 months, Barbara Russell has been struggling to keep her 21-year-old son Joshua, who has special needs, on track. Joshua is legally an adult but he functions like a first-grader. The services he receives at the Forum School are invaluable. Or they were, pre-COVID.

"Our kids need the skills that they are entitled to but lost due to COVID," Russell said.

Like many special-needs families, Russell is begging Gov. Phil Murphy to sign a bill on his desk that would give special-needs adults more time before they age out of New Jersey's educational system.

"It would be a gift to our children — they are worth investing in," Russell said. "It wouldn't be a waste of a signature."

The bill passed New Jersey's Senate and Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Tom Baffuto, the executive director of the Arc of New Jersey, an advocacy organization, said he hasn't heard anything either positive or negative about the legislation's future.

"We don't have a read on this bill," Baffuto said. "And it's unusual because the governor has been very supportive of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities."

"Aging out" means losing a variety of therapies and the ability to formulate a plan that helps these students independently integrate into society.

New York families are facing a similar dilemma.

FOX 5 NY reached out to Murphy, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the sponsors of the legislation.

New York Assembly Member Thomas Abinanti told FOX 5 NY that his staff has asked the governor to make this a priority. Cuomo's office said the legislation is one of 900 bills on his desk and is under review.

New Jersey lawmakers didn't return requests for comment.

"Time is running out," Baffuto said.

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