Senate President Sweeney, Honorable Members of the NJ Legislative Disability Caucus & Advocates from the Disability Community Hold First Meeting of Bipartisan Disability Caucus Focusing on the Impact of COVID-19 on Persons with Disabilities

Senate President Sweeney, Honorable Members of the NJ Legislative Disability Caucus & Advocates from the Disability Community Hold First Meeting of Bipartisan Disability Caucus Focusing on the Impact of COVID-19 on Persons with Disabilities


TRENTON, NJ New Jersey Legislative Disability Caucus Chair Senate President Steve Sweeney, honorable legislative caucus members and advocates from the disability community met virtually on January 26th for the inaugural meeting of the Caucus to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking a disproportionate toll on people with disabilities, the topic led to a robust discussion among policymakers and advocates for this first briefing session of 2021.


Disability advocates shared their experiences with policy makers regarding limited access to vaccines, testing, personal protective equipment, and critical care resources amid the pandemic. They also discussed loss of educational services, therapy and behavioral supports due to the public health crisis and how it has affected transition to adult life and compensatory services. The goal of the briefing session was to raise awareness and share ideas, so policymakers can make informed decisions on how to best address the inequities.


“This Caucus is not partisan in any way at all. Many legislators care about the disabled community, but the problem is we have not communicated as well as we need to ensure their concerns are addressed,” said Senate President and Caucus Chair Steve Sweeney. “This is the very purpose of this Caucus and starting with this discussion on COVID is critical,” he concluded.


Speakers from the disability community included: Gwen Orlowski, Executive Director of Disability Rights New Jersey; Annette Smith, Parent Advocate; Steve Gruzlovic, Self-Advocate and Board President of Progressive Center for Independent Living; and Peg Kinsell, Parent Advocate, SPAN Parent Advocacy Network. Legislative Caucus members asked questions and discussed legislative solutions, making for an engaging and educational session.


“I appreciate Senate President Steve Sweeney and legislators of the Caucus for providing this opportunity to share my perspective on issues surrounding COVID, including access to vaccines and the need for continuation of hazard pay for direct support professionals,” said Steve Gruzlovic, Self-Advocate and President of the Progressive Center for Independent Living.


This bipartisan forum is open to all legislators who agree to serve as champions for individuals with disabilities in NJ by meeting with them in their district offices; participating in quarterly education forums; and above all, promoting policies to improve the lives of people with disabilities and considering the impact on the disability community in shaping all public policies in NJ. The next briefing session is scheduled for Tuesday, April 27, 2021 with a focus on employment. For more information about the Caucus and to get involved, visit




Legislative Disability Caucus Members


Senator Stephen M. Sweeney – Chair

Senator Anthony M. Bucco

Senator Kristin M. Corrado

Senator Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr.

Senator Vin Gopal

Senator Thomas H. Kean, Jr.

Senator Fred H. Madden, Jr.

Senator Declan J. O’Scanlon, Jr.

Senator M. Teresa Ruiz

Senator Troy Singleton

Senator Joseph F. Vitale

Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson

Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro

Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti

Assemblyman Ronald S. Dancer

Assemblywoman Joann Downey

Assemblywoman Aura K. Dunn

Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald

Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt

Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez

Assemblywoman Nancy F. Munoz

Assemblywoman Carol A. Murphy

Assemblywoman Holly T. Schepisi

Assemblyman Adam J. Taliaferro

Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake

Assemblyman Anthony S. Verrelli

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker


Supporting Agencies

New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities

Autism New Jersey

Brain Injury Alliance

Disability Rights New Jersey (DRNJ)

New Jersey Association of Mental Health & Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA)

New Jersey State Independent Living Council

Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families

SPAN Parent Advocacy Network

Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey

The Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities (ABCD)

The Arc of New Jersey

The Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

The New Jersey Association of Community Providers (NJACP)

NJ Association of Human Services Directors

Northeast ADA Center

Heightended Independence and Progress Center for Independent Living (HIP)

Easterseals New Jersey

Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey

NJ Joint Council on Special Services

Alliance Center for Independence

DAWN Center for Independent Living

Progressive Center Mercer

NJ Association of Centers for Independent Living


About the NJ Legislative Disability Caucus
The Caucus was formed December 1, 2020 to serve as a bipartisan forum within the New Jersey Legislature for lawmakers and their staff to consider the impact on the disability community when shaping ALL public policies in the Garden State. The Caucus will provide increased awareness and a greater understanding of the complexities of the disabilities service system and issues affecting individuals with disabilities and their families. For more information, visit


About the NJCDD

The New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities (NJCDD) is a federally-mandated organization located in but not of the NJ Department of Human Services.

NJCDD works to ensure individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, participate in the design of and have access to needed community services, individualized supports, and other forms of assistance that promote self-determination, independence, productivity, integration and inclusion in all facets of life through culturally competent programs.

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