Session 1 – Defining Caregiving & its Impact on Family, Patients & Friends
The first part of the Caregiving in New Jersey Series was all about defining caregiving and how it impacts caregivers, patients, and friends. Our first presentation was by Courtney Roman of Center for Health Care Strategies, giving an overview on caregiving. Roman explained how a family caregiver can basically be anybody, and we all know people serving in this role. Roman described caregivers as a person who has a significant personal relationship with and provides a broad range of assistance for an older person or an adult with a chronic or disabling condition. These caregivers may or may not live with the person receiving care; their primary goal is to make the person receiving care as comfortable as possible.
Our second presentation was presented by Kathleen Otte of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services explaining a national strategy that can be able to support family caregivers. Otte explains how that strategy can be able to empower communities, agencies, and other stakeholder groups to select actions for implementation; this strategy is a significant milestone in our national effort to improve the way we can support family caregivers and the people they are caring for.
The second part of the Caregiving in New Jersey Series was about finding support and building skills. Our first presentation was by Mary-Catherine Lundquist of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, COPSA, and Care2Caregivers; Lundquist’s presentation reviewed the different stages of caregiving, as well as what it takes to build a care team while exploring how to identify current connections, exploring community supports, and ways to contact professional support for anyone who is a caregiver.
Our second presentation was by Robyn Kohn of Alzheimer’s Association. Kohn’s presentation talks about Alzheimer’s Disease, including what it is, how common it is, and raising awareness on what an Alzheimer’s caregiver does. Caring for a loved one going through Alzheimer’s is an overwhelming and highly emotional time for the caregiver and rest of the family, and Kohn sheds light on this. Kohn also discussed ways we can help with Alzheimer’s as individuals, as an organization, and in our communities.
Session 3 -Benefits: Family Leave, Respite Care, NJ Family Leave Insurance
The third and final part of the Caregiving In New Jersey Series was about the different benefits related to caregiving, such as Family Leave Benefits, Respite Care, and NJ Family Leave Insurance. Our first presentation was by Lauren Levant of Jewish Home Family talking about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA is a federal law that is enacted to protect employees’ jobs and medical insurance when they need unpaid time from work for certain family and/or medical reasons.
Our second presentation was by Jennifer Rutberg of New Jersey Division of Aging Services on Respite Care. Respite care is taking time away from caregiving so caregivers can go back to their duties refreshed and protected from burnout. Respite care can include anything revolving around your self-care and enjoyment.
Our third and final presentation was by Ellen Maughan of New Jersey Paid Leave Outreach Collaborative talking about Paid Family Leave in New Jersey. Paid Family Leave in New Jersey has existed since 2009 and has expanded in recent years. Employees can use Family Leave Insurance to take care of their loved ones, themselves, or cope with any form of trauma or grief.
We want to thank Parker Life for the support of this series!
We will continue to expand our events on caregiving. Our next event will be a webinar for caregivers from Teepa Snow’s “Positive Approach to Care.” This is offered free to NJ caregivers and people who work with individuals with dementia and will be held Tuesday, May 2 at 6pm. Register for this event here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_7I3pn_nxTRSGynajBz5qyg
Thanks for being a part of the Caregiving in New Jersey Series!
This article was originally published on njbiz.com and is posted here with permission.
At New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well, we are always looking at the numbers. So, consider these statistics. The population age 65+ was the fastest growing group in New Jersey between 2010 and 2020, increasing 26.8%, according to usafacts.org/data. This number means the 65+ population increased from 13.5% in 2010 to 17% in 2020. And the trend is expected to continue. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030, those aged 60 and older will make up 24.5% of our state’s population.
This trend in aging is a good thing. It represents not only baby boomers reaching retirement age, but also increased longevity. Not only are more people “older” but they are also living longer than ever before. The hope is that these seniors will lead vibrant and interesting lives for many years. However, an estimated 70% will need some type of support as they age. And so, our aging population will increase demand on our care infrastructure.
That is why NJAAW has partnered with PHI, a national organization focused on the direct care workforce, to bring the Essential Jobs, Essential Care initiative to New Jersey, and to build on recent progress in the state to support the direct care workforce. This workforce – which includes certified home health aides, certified nursing assistants, and direct support professionals – provides essential care to thousands of residents in their homes, community settings and in-patient facilities. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, direct care workers provide critical support to older adults and people with disabilities across the state. With our aging population, we know the need will increase just as the workforce is shrinking.
Inadequate compensation, limited training and advancement opportunities, and other challenges are pushing direct care workers away from this sector. With recent increases in minimum wage and demand for workers in other sectors, people can choose to work in easier settings for the same or more pay DCWs need to pay for classes, training and to receive certification from one of several state offices before they can earn their first paycheck in patient care. In addition, nearly 40% of New Jersey’s direct care workers live in or near poverty, and 41% access some form of public assistance. This results in workers paid through Medicaid being eligible to receive Medicaid – an unsustainable situation.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030, those aged 60 and older will make up 24.5% of our state’s population.
It is becoming more and more difficult for providers to meet current and growing demand. So, we are committed to building a strategic road map for recruiting, training and retaining direct care workers that will benefit all New Jersians, both now and in the future.
Currently, there are just over 101,000 direct care workers in New Jersey. PHI estimates that long-term care employers here will need to fill nearly 179,000 job openings in direct care by 2030, which includes new jobs to meet growing demand and jobs that must be filled when existing workers transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force. Our seniors are relying on this workforce to support them; we must do more to ensure it is there for them.
There has been some great progress in recognizing the need for and the needs of direct care workers recently. The Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office secured higher pay for nursing home workers under COVID. The New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute produced a comprehensive report on the need for an across-the-board strategy to expand and prepare the health care workforce in the state. The Coalition for a DSP Living Wage made great strides in helping workers serving people with disabilities. Programs including NJ Pathways and Schools that Can are opening training and establishing career pathways to bring more people into this important field.
In addition, the state has committed funds to this effort – Gov. Phil Murphy earmarked $240 million last July to wage increases for a range of direct care workers; early this year, he signed into law a bill that dedicates $1 million to creating pipeline and career advancement opportunities for direct support professionals. These are great starts. What we need now is to work together to build a strategy that will see us through the current worker shortage, find commonalities, and create advocacy road maps with concrete and achievable policy goals and activities that will work for the long term.
Over the next 18 months, we will continue bringing together representatives from a wide range of providers and services in N.J. for a common goal – to increase and improve the direct care workforce. As we learned in the first convening of the PHI Coalition on May 23 and 24, DCWs have unique skills and character traits. This is a hard job, both physically and emotionally. Older adults deserve a workforce that is qualified to care, and also bring patience, compassion and dedication to their patients.
I invite stakeholders to join us in this effort. We are striving for a strategy that benefits all sectors of health care services. With a well-trained and fairly compensated workforce, all health care and service providers can benefit – whether inpatient facilities or home-based services.
At NJAAW, we advocate for what it takes to age well, encourage people to think ahead about where and how they want to age, and what they need to do to prepare. But no matter how strategic we are, we will never know what support we need until we need it. As they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men…” So, we must plan for a future where a significant portion of our population will need supportive services to age in the great state of New Jersey. This future needs a strong workforce.
Cathy Rowe is executive director of New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well. The Essential Jobs, Essential Care NJ initiative is supported by The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation.
Unfortunately, we have seen this over and over: Well-meaning older adults who want to support a good cause become the targets or victims of a scam
Why Are There Scams About Ukraine?
Let’s be clear – the people of Ukraine need our support and help. Lives are disrupted, infrastructure is destroyed and peoples’ health, welfare and lives are at risk.
Scam artists are despicable when they take the focus on a crisis and use it to try and rob well-meaning people.
NJ has a high number of Ukrainian immigrants – the 4th largest community in the United States. Many came over in the 1980s to work and raise their families, and are now retired. The headquarters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA is based here in South Bound Brook, at St. Andrew Memorial Church.
We know the compassion and concern are real. We just want to make sure the support that people want to give gets to the right place – and not in some scammer’s pocket.
Why Do Scammers Target Older Adults?
We have this struggle – while we want to help older adults with technology and close the digital divide, we also do not want to expose them to fraud. We want people to be safe and be cautious online.
If you get emails asking for donations, check the address it came from. Do not open an email or click on a link unless you really know where it is from. If you go to a website to get information or to donate, make sure you are going to the site you want and have not been redirected to another site with a similar name.
Also, the problems aren’t only online. There has been no slowdown in telemarketing scams.
Telemarketing has become an easy way for fraudsters to scams seniors. Many seniors will always pick up the phone – and have been doing so all of their lives. Since we are in our homes more because of COVID or the cold weather, we hear that phone ringing. As our partners at Senior Medicare Patrol advise: If you receive a call and you do not recognize the caller’s telephone number, do not pick up the call. Let your answering machine screen all of your calls.
How to Help Ukraine
Our advice is to donate through an organization you know and trust, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. Locally, if your house of worship is organizing something to help the people of Ukraine, or if there is a Ukrainian church or synagogue you know that is doing something, that might be the best way to ensure that your help will really get there. Also, large church-based charities, usually covering a diocese or synod, are trustworthy places to donate to if they have set up a fund for Ukraine.
We also see that some news stations have screened organizations that are helping Ukraine and are posting this information on their broadcasts as well as on their websites.
Fighting Scams on Any Topic
Be sure that you never feel intimidated or pressured to give money or any personal information to someone you don’t know. If you feel pressure, hang up the phone. If someone, by phone or email, is trying to make you feel flustered or dumb, know that you are not. Scammers are smart, persistent and only need to trick one person to make money.
Also, while it may be hard, share your experience with others. Tell people about the calls or emails you’ve received that seem suspicious so that they can learn. You will be providing a service by sharing our experience with others.
If you suspect that you have been the victim of a scam, report it to cyber.nj.gov or AARP’s toll-free fraud helpline at 1-877-908-3360.
Finally, always keep up your vigilance:
Do not respond to emails if you do not know the source
Initiate calls or conversations yourself
Double-check the website address if you want to donate online – make sure you weren’t redirected
As we wind up 2021, I just want to take a moment to say I’m proud of you, New Jersey! Now, with all the jokes made about the great Garden State, you might not be used to the compliment, but here is why I am proud of our older residents, in particular.
New Jersey was hit hard early in the pandemic and suffered tremendous loss of life.
When we started 2021, we were on the edge of our seats waiting for the COVID vaccine and a return to normalcy. It was a frantic rollout but once the supply caught up with demand, the older residents in New Jersey led the way in getting vaccinated.
December 15 is the anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccinations being administered in the state of New Jersey. According to multiple reports, Garden State residents age 65 and over are among the highest vaccinated group in the country. New Jersey is leading the nation in fighting COVID.
Now, I am not talking about politics or the misinformation that is affecting personal decisions on getting vaccinated. I am talking about the facts: Our fellow New Jerseyans over the age of 65 remember growing up in a time before vaccines. They can remember when polio, measles and other contagious diseases would shut down schools and swimming pools, and put communities on edge. They had lived through this before.
We hear the term “unprecedented” used in discussions about COVID, the vaccines and mandates. Yes – this is unprecedented; the last time we saw a health crisis of this magnitude, a true pandemic, was over 100 years ago.
Living through the flu epidemic of 1918
There are a handful of people who lived through the influenza epidemic of 1918, which spread worldwide before we had airplanes, cars and the social interactions we were so accustomed to until COVID arrived. Many of the medical advances we take for granted were not developed – vaccines were in their infancy and penicillin was still 10 years away.
No corner of the globe was left unaffected and the similarities of the 1918 pandemic and COVID-19 are surprising, considering the century of medical progress that has passed in between.
A few years ago, I made a documentary with SOMA (South Orange Maplewood) Two Towns for All Ages, in which we asked older residents about their memories of growing up before vaccines. Stories included children being sent away to family members in the countryside for the summer, to avoid polio. One woman recalled a relative who returned home from World War II a hero, only to succumb to polio a few weeks thereafter. Another witnessed diseases first-hand as a young nurse. Their honest recollections come to my mind every time I hear updates on vaccination rates.
We have come a long way and I am truly proud that people who can remember the time without vaccines took the lead in getting them to not only protect themselves but also others.
Vaccination rates for people 65+: nationwide vs. NJ
As of this writing, the national vaccination rate among adults age 65+ is 90+% ; in NJ it is over 98% with some communities reporting all residents over age 65 are vaccinated.
In addition, vaccination rates for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) NJ residents are above the national average, elevating protection in communities that have been hit hardest by this virus. (Source: NJ Department of Health, USAfacts.org and CDC.gov)
So, well done NJ! Once again, our older neighbors have proven that they are leaders and have so much to teach the rest of us.
I thank all of the people who drew on their life experiences and memories in making their health care decision to get the COVD vaccine. May we all look to your example.
To see the SOMA Two Towns for All Ages documentary “A Time Before Vaccines,” click here. This oral history shares the personal memories of SOMA residents growing up in a time before vaccines, and how now preventable diseases like polio, diphtheria and measles affected their lives.
Guest blog by Charles Clarkson, Esq., Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey
On March 13, 2020, a national health emergency was declared due to the coronavirus pandemic. After many years of running the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP), I knew it was only a matter of time before we starting seeing SCAMS related to the health emergency. Fraudsters are always looking for ways to scam people, and the COVID-19 public health emergency has been no exception. Initially, fraudsters promoted false cures, sold phony personal protective equipment, given people illegitimate COVID tests and billed Medicare for sham tests and treatments. Now, they are targeting vaccines.
The goals of the fraudsters are very simple: to obtain your information, which they can use to steal your personal and/or medical identity, or to outright steal your money. The SMP has seen a number of vaccine scams. The more you know about these scams the more likely it is you will not fall victim to them.
Head-of-the-line Vaccine Scams
Scammers call and say you can get your vaccine early by providing your Medicare number or other personal information. They may ask for payment upfront and/or insurance information in order to be placed on a priority waiting list for a vaccine you may never receive.
Don’t fall for it. You cannot pay to get in line for a vaccine.
Survey Vaccine Scams
You have gotten your vaccine. You then get an email asking you to complete a health survey. It looks legitimate and has logos and telephone numbers that appear to be genuine. You want to be helpful because you are grateful you were able to get the vaccine. Some of these surveys are also offering money or other incentives to entice you to participate in the survey. The messages may also claim to be urgent, giving a timeframe of expiration to get you to click on their deceptive link to gain personal information.
Don’t fall for it. A vaccine survey offering you an incentive or stating a sense of urgency to complete is a red flag. You should double-check logos and phone numbers and hover over links to see if they are long and suspicious. Don’t click on them.
Vaccine Trial Scams
There are numerous clinical research trials in the race to develop additional COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and cures. Legitimate clinical trials may offer payments to participants under well-defined legal guidelines. However, career criminals know the offer of a paid clinical trial is also an opportunity for financial identity theft.
Scammers are setting up fake websites offering to sell vaccines or vaccine kits. Some are imitating legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers. In some cases, scammers were asking for payment for vaccines and/or kits via a credit card and sending payment to a specific credit union.
Don’t fall for it. You can’t buy a vaccine.
For More Information About Vaccine Scams Affecting Older Adults
If you think you have been a victim of Medicare fraud, errors, or abuse, contact the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 1-732-777-1940 or call our hotline at 1-877-SMP-4359 [1-877-767-4395]. You can also visit our website.
If you have questions related to Medicare billing for COVID-19 vaccines, call 1-800-Medicare [1-800-633-4227] or visit Medicare.
Charles Clarkson, Esq., has been the Project Director of the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey, under the auspices of the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, since 2005. The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey is a federally funded program of the U.S. Administration for Community Living and part of the national Senior Medicare Patrol project. There is a Senior Medicare Patrol in every state, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgins Islands. The SMP of New Jersey is responsible for teaching Medicare recipients in the state to become better healthcare consumers. As part of this effort, seniors are provided with information to prevent them from becoming victims of fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare program. The SMP program also assists beneficiaries in reviewing suspected Medicare fraud and can act as an advocate to assist beneficiaries in fighting Medicare fraud, waste and abuse.
Clarkson is a New York attorney who for many years was Vice President, Deputy Counsel and Corporate Secretary of TLC Beatrice International Holdings, Inc., a multi-billion, international food company.
Excerpt from a speech by Cathy Rowe, DrPH, NJAAW’s new Executive Director
For the last four to five years, I have been deeply involved in age-friendly efforts and communities, and as you have heard in recent weeks — and from some of our [conference] speakers — NJ has committed to becoming an age-friendly state. So, this is an exciting time with a lot of opportunities for all of us in the field of aging to make change where needed, keep all the best of what we do and attempt things we never thought possible before. Now is the time to reach high.
When [NJ’s Director of the Division of Aging Services (DoAS)] Louise Rush told us that 23+% of NJ residents were over age 60, even I was surprised. That’s a lot! It really is a lot.
We have known that the Baby Boomers — the bubble born post-WW2 through 1968 — were the largest population group ever seen in the US, and we have watched for 60 years as they moved through the schools systems, the workforce, started their families and now enter retirement. We built schools for them, colleges, highways and other infrastructure to accommodate this population growth, but we are still not fully prepared for their next stage of life.
Living longer; prepping for the future
Part of this is because when they were born, the average life expectancy was still under 70 years. Now, a child born today may easily see their 100th birthday. That is a big change and a rapid change. Nobody building new schools to accommodate an influx of students in 1960 predicted that those same children would live as long and as well as they are now.
There is a lot to do to prepare. Coming out of COVID, as we rebuild and rebound, we need to keep the lessons we learned and use them for long-term planning, to shape policy and make improvements. No problem that any of us were working on before COVID was solved — most were accentuated. Many new, or rather, unrecognized challenges, were brought to the forefront. And we saw some very creative solutions.
Aging is actually one of the very few things we all have in common. My background is in public health, and I was once asked how public health fit into healthy aging. I responded that healthy aging is the goal of public health. All efforts, research, programs — whether long-term or in quick response to something like a pandemic — are with the goal to help people live long, healthy lives as individuals and as a population.
Not just aging — aging well
So, the question we face is: How do we age well — as individuals, as communities and as a state?
At NJAAW, our role and goals are aligned with our emerging from COVID, the review of the state plan for older adults, and the age-friendly efforts. For 10 years, NJAAW has provided Aging Insights, our award-winning TV program, covering topics that range from health, pandemics to personal finances and just about everything in between. We will continue Aging Insights as well as holding webinars that have provided interactive sessions with colleagues in the field who have found unique ways to approach aging issues in their communities.
Sharing, educating, advocating
And based on the response to our conference’s networking session, and the very active Q&A for presenters, we will offer more opportunities to bring you together for discussions and idea-sharing — one small benefit of the last year is that we can now connect so easily online. Meeting online breaks down the many silos that might block our natural interaction — either by service area or geography.
This is NJ and with over 500 municipalities doing things 500 different ways, it is difficult to see what another community is doing and find ways to implement it for your town or program or agency. We want to help in the sharing of ideas, lessons and successes you all have had in your work.
As NJ works towards becoming an age-friendly state, we will continue the education and advocacy we have done for the past 23 years. We will increase our focus on policy and joining the discussion on age-friendly efforts and the changing demographics of our state.
2030, that looming year we in NJ and many states expect to see the number of 60+ year old residents outnumber the number of students in the classrooms, is not far away.
We will highlight issues of importance with
Academic research and
The experience of local efforts bubbling up and state efforts going down
Where do we meet in the middle?
Your plans for aging well?
I asked Louise Rush and members of the breakout groups what their plans are for aging well — and I am going to keep asking so everybody, start thinking. We are all professionals here, working to help people age well. Whether social worker, housing, health care, recreation, mental health or transportation — we are working now to not only meet needs but to make life better for older New Jerseyans.
But as the flight crew always tells us, “Put on your own oxygen mask first.” Louise Rush said age 0 – 60 goes fast. Age 60 – 90 might slow down for some as you find new time in retirement or might speed up more with additional family, responsibilities, or new careers and activities.
So, do not just think of what needs to be done right now, coming out of COVID, or for the next year, or the next inspection or budget cycle. Think of what YOU can do long term and what WE can do together. What do you personally want for your aging plan? Where do you want to live? Are you financially prepared?
Whether you are new to the field, mid-career or counting the weeks until you retire, envision where and how you want to live and what you will need. Now go do it!
The time is now
The timing for coming out of COVID actually is good, if there could ever be a “good time” or anything good to come from a pandemic. What I mean by that is that we are re-emerging and rebuilding at the exact time other significant changes are about to be made. We are launching statewide efforts to make NJ an age-friendly state just as we are looking at the lessons we learned from COVID.
We saw the devastating fragility of some of our residents who succumbed to this disease. We saw that socioeconomic status, including race and income, had a significant impact on whether someone caught COVID and their ability to recover.
Lessons to be learned
More than ever before, we came further in the last year in recognizing racial inequities, which become more pronounced as we age. We saw some communities embrace technology while others were left further behind. We learned that we do not know enough about our older residents who live in their own homes, who are not in any programs or receiving benefits. What do all of these have in common? They are lessons we learned and data points we can use going forward.
At NJAAW we are going to keep doing what we do well — convening, educating and advocating for older residents. To be as effective as possible at this important time of change, we will examine data more carefully to identify needs and to help shape policy. Look for the data highlights we will include in our newsletter and other communications.
Data = direction
From my time in academia, I learned that it is only with good data that we can help shape good policy and then implement that policy as effectively and efficiently as possible. I am thrilled to have supportive and dedicated people in our statehouse, including Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle and the members of the Aging and Senior Services Committee in the Assembly, and Director Rush shaping our next steps in policy and programs. At NJAAW we will share the data and discussions with you and will advocate for policy and the funding necessary to make NJ a state where we can all age well.
About Dr. Rowe
Cathy Rowe, DrPH, was named Executive Director of NJ Advocates for Aging Well in May, 2021. Most recently, Dr. Rowe served as Coordinator for SOMA (South Orange/Maplewood): Two Towns for All Ages, a grant-funded healthy aging initiative in a community with more than 6,000 residents over 60. This cutting-edge collaboration, based on the World Health Organization’s Domains of Healthy Aging, focuses on developing programs to address economic and infrastructure needs for an age-friendly community.
Dr. Rowe has spoken extensively on aging issues at conferences and symposia locally and globally and is an expert in establishing age-friendly communities. In 2020, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging presented her with a “Best Practices for Socially Engaging Older Adults Award” for the “Repair Café” she established — the first of its kind in NJ. An inter-generational event, the cafe brings together people of all ages and levels of expertise to repair and save treasured items. This also helps to keep such items out of landfills.
Dr. Rowe serves on the steering committee for Impact 100 Essex and is a mentor for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Previously, she was a Board member for the Interfaith Hospital Network.
Dr. Rowe earned her DrPH in Health Policy and Management from Columbia University, where she received a Fellowship in Public Policy. Her BA in Economics is from Bates College.
This article is one in a series of stories about how people across the country are using the Elder Index to understand the true cost of living for older adults and its economic implications. If you know someone who would like to receive information about these stories, send us a note at email@example.com.
Late this spring, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy faced a big problem that was all too familiar to other governors across America. The staggering economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had created a state budget crisis, with unemployment soaring and new annual revenue projections falling billions of dollars short.
Murphy approached the problem by moving back the start of New Jersey’s next fiscal year from July to October and passing a three-month stop-gap budget to tide the state over. Included in the short-term budget: Cuts to two important property tax-relief programs that help older adults in New Jersey afford to remain in their homes.
This was no small detail. New Jersey homeowners pay the nation’s highest property tax rates, about twice the U.S. average. Nearly 580,000 homeowners benefitted from one of the programs under the axe and 158,000 others took advantage of the other. Both programs primarily benefitted older homeowners and the combined impact of the cuts was expected to exceed $480 million.
Melissa Chalker, executive director of the New Jersey Foundation for Aging, understood all that. Along with AARP New Jersey and other advocates, Chalker immediately launched a campaign to convince the governor and state legislators to restore the critical programs. One of her key tools in advocacy calls and letters: The Elder Index.
“All of these communications would reference the Elder Index,” said Chalker. “It not only allowed us to tell policymakers that 54 percent of older adults in New Jersey have difficulty making ends meet, but a recent related report showed how effective one property tax-relief program in particular was in reducing the economic security gap facing older adults in the state.”
The index, developed and managed at the University of Massachusetts Boston, is a free online tool that provides realistic and detailed cost of living data for older adults living in every U.S. county. Combined with state-level income data, the index can also determine the percentage of older adults who have insufficient income to meet the cost of living in their states. UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute published a report on state-by-state elder economic security last November.
The New Jersey Foundation for Aging and the Gerontology Institute have been working together for years to provide state and local leaders with clear data about the economic circumstances of their older citizens. The foundation helped promote legislation enacted in 2015 that requires an elder economic security report based on Elder Index data be maintained by state government as a public resource.
A companion report, prepared with Rutgers University and a consultant, analyzes racial and ethnic details in the data, as well other factors including the effectiveness of individual state programs in reducing elder economic insecurity.
“We want to constantly use the Elder Index to remind policymakers and people in state government that there is a need here with older adults,” said Chalker. “Whether it’s the SNAP nutrition program, housing or prescription drug prices, we’ve been able to send letters and testify at the statehouse on those issues stating the Elder Index data.
“We’ve also used it to arm our partners, whether they are funders, county office on aging staff or senior center staff to help them meet the needs of older adults in their communities,” she said.
But the foundation had always understood that housing expenses played an outsized role in New Jersey’s elder economic security problem. The online index can help anyone get sense of those dimensions in just a couple of clicks.
Here’s how: Enter New Jersey and national average queries for older couples in good health who own their own home without a mortgage. You’ll find total monthly expenses more than 20 percent higher in New Jersey, compared with the national average. Housing costs, almost double the national average in New Jersey, account for nearly all of the overall difference.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signs the state’s budget.
Data like that explain why Chalker and other advocates knew how important it was to save New Jersey’s property tax-relief programs. After a burst of calls, letters and op-ed columns, their efforts paid off last month. Murphy signed a new $32.7 billion budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, preserving both property tax relief programs for the future.
“I think the Elder Index was crucial in terms of the effort,” said Chalker. “You can anecdotally say how hard it is for seniors and tell some very compelling stories. But you’ve got to have metrics if you are making the case to policymakers and the elder economic insecurity reports provided what we needed.”
About the Gerontology Institute The Gerontology Institute conducts research and policy analysis in the field of aging, and offers lifelong learning and pension protection services to older adults. The institute’s priorities include income security, long-term service and supports, healthy aging, age-friendly communities and social and demographic research on aging.