By Vin Gopal
Both the State Senate and Assembly have passed our bills to toughen auto theft law and to require Medicaid reimbursement for covered behavioral health services provided in schools.
Car thieves have hounded residents and gotten more brazen, even breaking into their homes to get keys to steal cars, bringing the thieves in direct and dangerous contact with their victims. Yet, we’ve seen too many incidents where people out on bail pending trial for car theft, go on to steal more cars.
We’ve seen an alarming rise in teen depression, isolation, mental illness and suicides. This legislation, S2416, comes in response to the reversal of a federal Medicaid policy which prohibited Medicaid reimbursement for school health services if the same services were provided free of charge to the general student population. The goal is to make sure all students needing behavioral health services have access to them.
This bill allows us to build out school-based Medicaid services at a time when many students and their families are facing behavioral health challenges. It will also allow a school to access additional funds through which it can continue to bolster mental and behavioral health services for their students.
Meanwhile, the state budget for FY2024 passed on Friday and we secured million for Monmouth County. Here are a few of the appropriations that will benefit Long Branch-Ocean and Eatontown-area residents.
The budget includes over $150,000 in direct grants for public safety support for both the Eatontown and Long Branch Police Departments. Long Branch especially has incurred significant expenses dealing with and trying to prevent pop-up parties that disrupt businesses and inconvenience residents.
Another $25,000 will provide support for the Long Branch Recreation Trust Fund to continue helping the city fund diverse programming including its recently implemented pickleball program, and $100,000 to assist the New Jersey Repertory Theater in Long Branch in purchasing new stage equipment.
There also is $50,000 in the budget for the Shore House to continue its fine work restoring independence and self-worth for people living with a mental illness by providing access to social, education and employment opportunities. The budget also includes $500,000 each to assist the Ocean Township and Eatontown school districts in meeting the increasing costs of providing mental health services.
We succeeded in getting the Eatontown Lions Club $50,000 to continue its charitable efforts such as screening children for vision problems and raising funds to establish an all-abilities playground in Eatontown with equipment for children with special needs.
You will hear more on the numerous other programs, local governments and nonprofit organizations receiving funds in the state budget in the weeks ahead as we continue to work in Trenton to ensure that Monmouth County receives its fair share.
Senator Vin Gopal serves as Senate Majority Conference Leader and Chair of the Senate Education Committee. Elected in 2018, a lifelong resident of Monmouth County, Senator Gopal represents residents of Asbury Park, Allenhurst, Colts Neck, Deal, Eatontown, Freehold, Freehold Township, Interlaken, Loch Arbor, Long Branch, Neptune City, Neptune Township, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Tinton Falls, Shrewsbury, Shrewsbury Township, and West Long Branch in the State Senate.