Over Councilman Mark Zinna’s public life, disability and special-needs rights have been critical components of his agenda. As President of Tenafly’s Borough Council he has worked with disability services advocates to expand community inclusion, increase accessibility, and ease the burdens associated with navigating complex healthcare, social security, and service-provider paperwork. Tenafly’s zoning laws used to make it next to impossible to build assisted-living facilities. Rather than encourage disability-rights organizations to petition the planning board in an arduous and expensive process, Mark led his Council in passing an ordinance to nullify restrictive zoning laws.
Today, Tenafly’s assisted-living facility for independent seniors is completely occupied with 90 residents. The Council’s decision, under Mark’s leadership, to cut away red tape made it possible. Mark’s work in the Council also paved the way for special-needs housing. Mark spoke to United Way, which had identified Tenafly’s downtown as a vital area for special-needs investment. Simultaneously, a Tenafly property owner wanted to build luxury rentals and condos. Mark encouraged the Borough Council to buy the expensive land—allowing tax revenue to take a hit—and donate it to United Way for the greater good. Mark’s efforts paved the way for special-needs housing for ten adults who work in and around the community.
Having a place to rest one’s head is one thing. Residents with disabilities also need to be able to get around physically and around confusing paperwork and legalese. To this end, Mark helped Tenafly buy a community bus for seniors, seniors with disabilities, and their aides, and his Council hired a senior services coordinator. The bus is also equipped with an automatic wheelchair ramp. It brings community members to the Senior Center, to shops, and wherever residents go for health services. The senior services coordinator helps seniors and the Senior Center arrange for and solve the needs of seniors. For instance, the senior services coordinator helps disabled, low-income seniors in need of assistance to communicate with HHS to review their Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits.
There’s more to be done, and there’s only so much one can do at the municipal level, so Mark is competing in New Jersey’s Democratic Gubernatorial Primary. From the beginning, Mark has advocated for “Medicare-for-all” single-payer healthcare for New Jersey. Mark, campaign leadership, and an American healthcare expert wrote a universal single-payer plan for the state called New Jersey Cares. In the wake of the devastation that is Trumpcare, New Jersey needs comprehensive universal healthcare now more than ever. This is literally a matter of life and death. A friend once told Mark that property taxes make it “too expensive to be alive in New Jersey.” Insurance and health services already cost too much for too many. We have to stop the inhumane madness now!
The AHCA will make health insurance (and, therefore, vital healthcare) virtually cost prohibitive for people with pre-existing conditions ranging from ADD to paraplegia, from autism to cerebral palsy, from Alzheimer’s to MS, and from wide-ranging disabilities to wide-ranging mental health conditions.
Trumpcare will also leave high-risk pools with scraps for healthcare subsidies. Further, by cordoning off “high-risk” Americans (i.e., those who have significant healthcare costs and insurance does not want to cover), the AHCA diminishes the vulnerable group’s political power. The law would make things zero-sum: It turns the ill against the very ill and the healthy against everyone else.
This is not the country Mark knows. He cannot stand idly by and allow this fiscally irresponsible and morally bankrupt regime sweep through New Jersey, the state he most loves. As it is, New Jersey’s reliance on an exorbitant property tax forces seniors and those with disabilities and special-needs out of the state. Mark thinks an “ability-to-pay” model is the rational and moral way forward. Our communities are being spread thin without reason.
Mark looks forward to working with advocates like Easterseals for many years to come.
Thank you for your service and for your time.