TRENTON — A busload of officials and clients from Morris County nonprofit agencies joined a noisy rally in front of the Statehouse Thursday demanding an increase in state contract payments for mental health services.
Robert Parker, executive director of NewBridge Services of Pequannock, said 54 county representatives made the trip to join the rally that brought more than 1,500 to the state capital.
He said the state has offered a 2 percent increase to take effect in January. The rally organizers are seeking a 4.1 percent increase to take effect on July 1. Additionally, an increase tied to the inflation rate should be automatically included in the budget every year, organizers said.
The state pays the nonprofits to provide many mental health services.
Parker said higher costs in many areas are hurting agencies. NewBridge has 23 vans, so rising fuel costs are a concern, he said.
Several state legislators spoke at the rally, including Assembly member Mims Hackett, D-Essex, who filed a budget resolution that included the 4.1 percent increase.
Terry Belske of Boonton said that as a client of a mental health agency, she knows a delay in getting the increase would hurt the agency that helps her. She spoke to Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Boonton, about a proposal to charge people like her a co-pay on insurance, another action that would cause harm, she said.
Gloria Jennings, a client who volunteers at Dover meal centers and who on Monday will start volunteering at a homeless drop-in center, said the smaller contract increase could mean fewer people who need help would be able to get it.
Carmine Veo of Community Hope Inc. said that the lack of an increase would make it harder for agencies to offer pay increases to employees. He said that state employees in the mental health field make one-third more money than those doing the same job for a nonprofit agency.
Charles LaRussa of the Morris County Mental Health Board said that the smaller increase would not offset the costs of fuel and insurance that are rising 20 to 40 percent annually.
Agencies, he said, would be reluctant to cut back services to clients, so if a smaller increase is approved, they would be forced to make do.