Bill would help incarcerated return to society with Medicaid, mental health benefits

Bill would help incarcerated return to society with Medicaid, mental health benefits

A New Jersey bill proposed on Tuesday would help inmates when they leave incarceration by ensuring that they are signed up for medical services before they are released.

The bill, S. 2331, authored by NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland) and Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson), would help inmates get food stamps, cash assistance, temporary housing, and Medicaid services, including treatment for behavioral health services like drug addiction treatment and mental health care.

The legislators stressed the importance of getting inmates the benefits before they are released from jail.

“If we want to give former offenders a fair opportunity at a second chance, we have to help address the obstacles to their successful reentry into society,” Sweeney said. “The obstacles they encounter are even greater during the public health crisis we are now experiencing. There are effective actions we can take to provide basic services that can make a real difference in the lives of men and women who are returning to their families and communities as productive members of society.”

The bill would require corrections officials to complete applications for enrollment into social service programs on behalf of the inmate, while they are still in jail, to eliminate delays in the inmate getting services upon their release. It would also require that county facilities would issue identification cards, matching those required by state inmates.

Additionally, the bill would require that the inmate will be given 90-days supply of any prescription medication they are on upon their release and that social service organizations will be notified in advance that the inmate is re-entering society to help with that transition.

“This bill will help to address the significant obstacles faced by state and county inmates in obtaining what can be life-sustaining benefits when they are released from incarceration, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cunningham said. “One of the biggest barriers facing the reentry community upon release is lack of photo identification, which is needed to apply for food stamps, general assistance, or Medicaid.”

Cunningham said pre-enrolling inmates in Medicaid is an important step in ensuring they can continue treatment for Substance Abuse Disorder.

“Access to health care services is a significant problem for former offenders,” Sweeney said. “Knowing where to go to continue care can be challenging and navigating the healthcare system is difficult. Doing all we can to make sure our returning citizens are enrolled in Medicaid before they’re released will make a real difference.”