In February 2010, Governor Chris Christie announced that the state’s fiscal crisis had reached a dangerous level and rigid solutions were proposes. At the time, the Governor was resolved to cut at least $475 million in school funding, $62 million in support for colleges and $12 million in hospital charity care. In addition, the Governor eliminated the Department of the Public Advocate, one of the rare offices that provided civil rights protections for downtrodden New Jerseyans, and transferred its services to the State Public Defender’s office. Furthermore, NJ Transit subsidies were cut and fares were raised for rail and bus riders -- those who could not afford automobiles in order to travel to work, a doctor’s office, or the supermarket.
The American Dream has always been centered on the opportunity for any qualified young person to pursue a formal education. Yet, American Colleges and Universities are the most expensive on the world. Young people are graduating with unprecedented debt; some are beginning their adulthood burdened by owing tens of thousands of dollars. The likelihood of their ever owning their own home is greatly diminished from the start.
The New Jersey College Promise Action Network has recently announced, “The State of New Jersey, facing many fiscal problems over the past 21 years, has not made the investment necessary to provide college opportunity to a growing population and it has gradually shifted the burden of college costs toward students and families.”
Healthcare in the United States is the most expensive in the world, and we now are faced with the argument that other industrialized nations are surpassing us in the quality of health care. Older adults with longitudinal chronic illnesses are losing their homes as a result of medical debt. Terminally ill patients are leaving their families with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. A Bergen County resident whom I talked to recently had her home taken by Sloan Kettering Cancer Center when she could not pay her medical bills. It may have come to the point where we can not afford to die.
Society is becoming defensive and placing barriers in front of us. Yet, New Jersey’s state government is becoming oblivious to human needs. We are facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis that requires us all to make sacrifices. However, those sacrifices should be in support of the State’s residents, rather than serve as an additional threat to them.
As a state, New Jersey is abandoning its most vulnerable citizens, including senior citizens struggling to survive, poorer workers who cannot get to a job site, patients who cannot afford adequate heath care, hard working individuals who cannot afford appropriate housing, and families who will not realize the American Dream because a higher education has become too costly for their son or daughter.
Yes, all New Jerseyans must be willing to share in the sacrifices that must be made in order to resolve the fiscal crisis. Unfortunately, the State has asked only the most vulnerable to make those sacrifices.
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro is a disability policy specialist and civil rights advocate in New Jersey.