By Mason Crane-Bolton
Life moves at a busy pace and it can be easy to lose track of the important governmental and legislative changes going on around you. It’s extremely important, however, to know what’s going on in public policy and what potential or impending changes will directly affect you. There are many legislative updates for older adults in New Jersey, either new policies or older policies changing and policies coming up for a vote. Below we’ve written a summary of several public policy updates from this past year and some that may come in the near future.
Earned Sick Leave: Earned Sick Leave: Effective as of October 29, 2018, employees in New Jersey are entitled to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year for care for themselves or a family member. This new law covers most employees in the state, whether they are full-time, part-time, or temporary, and covers employees regardless of the size of their employer’s organization (there’s no minimum number of employees required for compliance).
Sick time may be used for oneself or a family member to care for physical or mental health or injury, to address domestic or sexual violence or assault (including legal proceedings), to attend a child’s school-related meeting/conference/event, or to take care of children when school or child care is closed due to a public health emergency. Employers cannot require documentation (a “doctor’s note”) as to the reason for your use of sick time unless you use three or more consecutive days of sick time. Employers may not retaliate against an employee (e.g., write up a disciplinary note, threaten you, suspend or fire) for their lawful use of sick leave.
Earned Sick Leave also greatly expands the definition of “family member” under the law. Under the law, employees may take off to care for family members in addition to themselves. Family members, as defined by the Earned Sick Leave law, include an employee’s: child (biological, adopted, foster, stepchild, legal ward, or child of a domestic or civil union partner), grandchild, sibling, spouse, domestic or civil union partner, parent, grandparent, spouse/domestic partner/civil union partner of the employee’s parent or grandparent, sibling of an employee’s spouse/domestic partner/civil union partner, any other individual related by blood, or any individual whose close association is the equivalent of family.
This expanded definition of family is groundbreaking and a game changer for many older adults and caregivers; not only are a spouse’s/partner’s family now included in the definition of family, but so are those who are close enough to the employee to be considered family by the individual. These protections are a huge boon to those who care for a partner’s family or those without nearby family who rely on a network of friends and loved ones (sometimes called “found family”) to help provide care. This is especially beneficial to some older adults who may be less likely to have close relationships to biological family or may not have biological family, such as those in the LGBTQ community and older adults without children or who did not marry.
You can also learn more about Earned Sick Leave and other paid time off options for New Jersey employees on the latest Aging Insights here: Aging Insights, “Take the Time You Need” and visit the official Department of Labor website at https://mysickdays.nj.gov.
SNAP: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known by the acronym SNAP) is a federal program that provides supplemental food assistance to a great number of people, including a significant number of older adults. However, underenrollment in the program is both a state- and nationwide problem.
Although not everyone will qualify for SNAP, the program can provide even small benefits to many older adults who are not currently enrolled. These seemingly small benefits could also have a major impact on the food security and happiness of many older adults. Don’t assume you don’t qualify. To learn more and apply for SNAP, go to: https://www.nj.gov/humanservices/dfd/programs/njsnap/
Workplace Age Discrimination (Bill S3799): Legislation to ban age discrimination in the workplace in New Jersey is underway. Although still in progress, if passed, Bill S3799 would forbid employers in New Jersey from practicing workplace age discrimination on employees aged 70 or older (currently explicitly allowed in the state’s Anti-Discrimination Law). This new law would:
1) Eliminate current law that allows employers not to hire or promote workers over 70 years old.
2) Close a loophole for governmental employers that allows them to require an employee to retire when they reach a certain age.
3) Get rid of a law that allows institutions of higher education to require tenured employees to retire when they turn 70.
4) Amend the current law against discrimination to ensure that an employee who is unlawfully required to retire because of age has available all remedies provided by law. Unlike every other form of discrimination, those illegally forced to retire are currently limited to filing a complaint with the Attorney General and have relief limited to reinstatement with back pay and interest.
Older Americans Act: The current iteration of the Older Americans Act is set to expire on September 30, 2019. The Older Americans Act is a key and vital piece of legislation in funding critical services for older adults, including meal services, professional training, caregiver support, senior centers, transportation services, health promotion and outreach programs, benefits enrollment and assistance, and more.
If you support the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, now is the perfect time to speak to you local and national legislators and advocates to let them know you want the Older Americans Act to be renewed. Without reauthorization, the Older Americans Act will expire (leaving the funding and state of the above programs uncertain) on September 30, 2019.
To learn more about the Older Americans Act and the efforts for its reauthorization, visit the National Council on Aging’s website at: https://www.ncoa.org/public-policy-action/older-americans-act/
Linda’s Law: On July 5th, 2018, Linda Daniels of Newark died of congestive heart failure after her power was cut off on a sweltering 90? day. Linda’s power was terminated for nonpayment, which then cut off her air conditioning and her electrified oxygen tank, a device she used to help her breathe. Despite frantic efforts on the part of Linda’s family, power failed to restore in time and Linda Daniels passed away at age 68. On July 5th, 2019, one year to the date of Linda’s death, Governor Murphy signed a package of legislation dubbed “Linda’s Law” that requires all New Jersey utility companies to determine and check with all residential customers if they use life-sustaining equipment that relies on the use of electricity. Residential customers who use such equipment cannot have their service shut off for 90 days after nonpayment and are now banned from doing so by the state.
Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act: On April 12, 2019, Governor Murphy signed the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act into law. The law makes New Jersey the eighth state to have a death with dignity statute. The law, which has many stipulations and restrictions, will allow terminally ill individuals (who have received a terminal diagnosis from two separate physicians) to be prescribed a medication that will allow them to end their life as long as they have the ability to swallow. Death with dignity advocates have championed the law as a win for terminally ill patients who face needless suffering. Many groups have also opposed the controversial bill, and some legislators have introduced opposition to attempt to halt the bill before it goes into effect.
The law is set to go into effect on August 1st, 2019.
Thank you for reading and catching up on the latest policy updates! As always, we’ll update you throughout the year on any important changes—to follow policy and other updates, follow us on Facebook @njfoundationforaging, Twitter @njaging, Instagram @njaging, and LinkedIn @NJ Foundation for Aging.
If you have feedback or would like to be part of the conversation, leave us a comment below or email us as firstname.lastname@example.org.
Come back for our next blog! New posts are published on the first and third Thursdays of each month.
Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in Epiphany, UU World, To Wake/To Rise, and others.