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NJBIA President & CEO Michele Siekerka delivered the following testimony on Tuesday to the New Jersey Legislative Disability Caucus, which serves as a bipartisan forum within the Legislature for lawmakers to consider the impact on the disability community when shaping public policies in the Garden State.

Michele Siekerka

NJBIA President & CEO Michele Siekerka, Esq.

Good afternoon Senate President Sweeney and members of the New Jersey Legislative Disability Caucus.

I am Michele Siekerka, President and CEO of the NJBIA. Thank you for inviting me to speak today.

Mr. Senate President as you are aware, a workgroup of New Jersey’s major business associations was convened to work with you to improve workplace and economic opportunities for New Jerseyans in the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) community. Along with NJBIA, these associations included the Commerce & Industry Association of New Jersey, the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey, the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce and the Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce.

As a result of that meeting, we collectively identified steps to enhance employment opportunities for the IDD community and ensure that all residents have a place in New Jersey’s economy moving forward. These steps include the following:

Identifying the mutual needs of the business and IDD community partners in order to expand partnerships on employment opportunities and further educate business on the importance and value of hiring within the IDD community.

Enhancing the education and understanding of our business and IDD community partners regarding current laws and legal requirements such as reasonable accommodation and workplace safety laws.

Improving the point of entry for businesses to work with community partners through raising awareness and providing contact connections between the IDD and business community.

Knowing that resources and support at the jobsite are often needed to make the experiences successful, we can enhance coaching for individuals at the job site through working with our agency partners on how they can support these efforts through assistive technology and assisted daily living activities.

Another challenge is transportation with many IDD services running at specific times that might not sync with available shifts. This could be addressed by matching individuals with local businesses, so they do not have to rely on longer distance transportation.

We also think there is a role for incentivizing and recognizing businesses to step up and in. To this end, we are encouraging the use of tax credits for businesses that employ the IDD community.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of businesses hiring from the IDD community has dropped off. Workers are available, and incentivizing the use of IDD labor could help make those connections. To that end, Mr. Senate President, we submitted for your consideration last week a bill that would provide tax credits to businesses for hiring individuals with developmental disabilities and we look forward to the ability to continue to work on that bill with you and the caucus.

Along with incentivizing, we want to recognize businesses that go above and beyond to hire individuals in the IDD community: Public recognition creates awareness and builds momentum for others to engage. This year, NJBIA established the Excellence in Disability Inclusion award, as part of our Annual Awards for Excellence Program. This award will recognize NJBIA member companies who are leaders in efforts to recruit, hire, retain, and advance the careers of qualified people with disabilities.

The business partners will also expand our workforce collaboration efforts to ensure we improve access to workforce development opportunities tailored to the IDD community’s needs. Workforce collaboration is at the heart of much of our work and extending this to ensure we work with our workforce partners to meet the needs of the IDD community must be part of the agenda.

The business community will partner with New Jersey’s vocational schools and community colleges, as well as the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, to help identify needs and proper training.

And in particular, implementation of one of the bills the Senate President noted earlier being discussed today, S3468, which creates the Task Force on Maximizing Employment for People with Disabilities, would advance these efforts; as would  as well as accelerate the implementation of peer-to-peer Statewide apprenticeship mentoring for persons with disabilities (as set forward in P.L. 2020, CHAPTER 58). This would afford individuals with disabilities to gain access to work in skilled trades as the state comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic and restarts its economy. 

To move these actions forward, the business associations convened a broader stakeholder meeting that included community providers, the Department of Labor, Department of Human Services, the New Jersey Community College Consortium and the Senate President’s office.

As a result, three subgroups have been established to carry this work forward and are scheduled to meet in early May: The subgroups are:

  • IDD Career Pathways: May 3 at 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Subgroup on Workforce Challenges: May 4 at 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Diversity & Inclusion Roundtable: May 7 at 3 p.m. – 4 p.m.

NJBIA has supported many of the bills that have already advanced in the Legislature and we look forward to continuing to collaborate on this important work. We know that together, and with your support, we can achieve the goals we are setting out to accomplish.

Thank you.