Jennifer Velez, an attorney with an extensive background in social service issues in New Jersey, was nominated to be Commissioner of the Department of Human Services (DHS) by Governor Jon S. Corzine in February, 2007, and was confirmed and sworn in on June 21, 2007.
DHS has the largest budget in state government with more than half of the funds drawn from the federal government. It employs nearly 16,000 employees with just over 75-percent serving as direct care workers in the 7 developmental centers and 5 psychiatric hospitals. About one in eight New Jersey residents is impacted by the work of DHS.
Commissioner Velez works in partnership with the Administration on initiatives including: increasing enrollment in the state's subsidized health insurance program, NJ FamilyCare; ensuring a safe, secure and therapeutic environment in NJ's public psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers; advancing Olmstead plans which provide for the community placement of independent persons with developmental disabilities and mental illness; and sustaining the safety-net of services made available for NJ's low income individuals and families.
Additional priorities for the department involve increasing housing opportunities for those served by the department, increasing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, and engaging in substantive contract reform.
Commissioner Velez served as Deputy Commissioner for Family and Community Services at DHS from January 2006 until her nomination. In that position, she oversaw the divisions that administer Medicaid and public welfare and was involved in making recommendations to the Commissioner on all aspects of the Department's responsibilities.
Velez came to DHS from the Office of the Child Advocate, where she was named the Office's First Assistant Child Advocate when it was created in September 2003. As First Assistant Child Advocate, she led the Office's investigations into the child welfare system's care for four chronically malnourished former foster children and was responsible for the Office's work in the area of juvenile justice reforms.
From 1998 until 2003, Velez served Governor James E. McGreevey, Acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco and Governor Christine Todd Whitman as Senior Associate Counsel and Assembly Liaison in the Office of Governor's Counsel. There, she was primarily responsible for advising each on legislation and regulations affecting the Department of Human Services. She also played a significant role in the architecture of several laws that have impacted the health and welfare of New Jersey's children. These include the Homeless Youth Act, the Safe Haven Infant Protection Act, NJ FamilyCare, the creation of a Kinship Legal Guardianship status, New Jersey 's implementation of the Adoption and Safe Families Act and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Before entering public service, Velez was in private practice at the law firm of Pitney, Hardin, Kipp & Szuch in Florham Park , New Jersey . She received her law degree from Rutgers School of Law in Newark, NJ and her undergraduate degree in Economics from Drew University in Madison, NJ.
She lives in Summit with her husband and two children.