Often, the inspiration behind legislation is the story of a single individual that is so compelling it demands action.
Anna Landre, a former Freehold Township High School valedictorian who is currently a thriving student at Georgetown University, is one of those individuals. Her near-perfect 3.9-grade point average through her first two years helped Anna land an internship at the U.S. State Department last summer - but it almost didn’t happen.
Anna, who has a progressive muscle disease and must use a motorized wheelchair, nearly had to leave college and come home to live with her mother. The reason was that New Jersey’s out-of-date Medicaid rules prevent students with disabilities like Anna from getting the personal care assistance (PCA) they need to perform daily activities and attend classes. She - like many other students with disabilities - needs an aide to help her get in and out of bed, to get dressed and to help her as she attends classes.
For a student living out of state, it can take more than 100 PCA hours a week to live on campus. But Medicaid only pays for 40 hours. This unfair situation can make it almost impossible for students with disabilities going to college in other states to succeed.
Anna’s undaunting advocacy in her fight to force Medicaid to increase PCA hours for New Jersey residents with disabilities is why we are fighting to drive a bill introduced last year to greatly increase the number of personal care hours for students and workers with disabilities, and a package of bills introduced this year, into law.
The new bills would increase the home health aide services hours for a person with a disability living on a college campus; require that Medicaid notify them of their maximum coverage, and let students complete non-medical check-ins virtually instead of having to travel home. The bills also would allow people with disabilities who are between 18 and 21 to receive direct professional support services from the state Department of Human Services.
Anna taught us that addressing the needs of people with disabilities through personal care assistance is a complex task. She discovered the need to clarify how PCA allowances are calculated during her struggle for increased coverage.
So, the final bill in the package would create a Personal Care Assistance Task Force in the Department of Human Services to examine how PCA hours are determined and how to better account for the needs of college students living on campus. It would include disability advocacy groups, people receiving PCA benefits, and a higher education student living on campus.
You really have to admire Anna: her determination to succeed, her drive to pursue her dreams through education at a top-tier university even though it took her away from the comfort level of her home, and her continued advocacy for others.
Her story is inspiring. It reminds us that we need excellent students and passionate advocates like Anna. They contribute to our success as a society and help build stronger communities.