Posts Tagged ‘cost of living’

Elder Index at Work: Defending Property Tax-Relief Programs for Older Homeowners in New Jersey

Friday, October 16th, 2020

This blog post was written by Steven Syre of the Gerontology Institute at University of Massachusetts Boston, and is reprinted with their permission. 

multigeneration portraitThis 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 protected].

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.”

Melissa Chalker

Melissa Chalker

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

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.

Income Taxes and Your Social Security Benefits

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Income Taxes and Your Social Security Benefits

David Vinokurov, District Manager, Trenton, NJ, Social Security Administration

With tax season upon us, many of you have asked about Income Taxes And Your Social Security Benefits. Some people have to pay federal income taxes on their Social Security benefits. This usually happens only if you have other substantial income (such as wages, self-employment, interest, dividends and other taxable income that must be reported on your tax return) in addition to your benefits.

Note: No one pays federal income tax on more than 85 percent of his or her Social Security benefits based on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. If you:

  • file a federal tax return as an “individual” and your combined income* is
  • between $25,000 and $34,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits.
  • more than $34,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable.
  • file a joint return, and you and your spouse have a combined income* that is
  • between $32,000 and $44,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits
  • more than $44,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable.
  • are married and file a separate tax return, you probably will pay taxes on your benefits.

 

How can I get a form SSA-1099/1042S, Social Security Benefit Statement?

An SSA-1099 is a tax form we mail each year in January to people who receive Social Security benefits. It shows the total amount of benefits you received from Social Security in the previous year so you know how much Social Security income to report to IRS on your tax return.

If you are a noncitizen who lives outside of the United States and you received or repaid Social Security benefits last year, we will send you form SSA-1042S instead.

Note: The forms SSA-1099 and SSA-1042S are not available for people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

If you currently live in the United States and you need a replacement form SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S, we have a new way for you to get an instant replacement quickly and easily beginning February 1st by:

Withholding Income Tax From Your Social Security Benefits

 

You can ask us to withhold federal taxes from your Social Security when you apply for benefits.

If you are already receiving benefits or if you want to change or stop your withholding, you’ll need a form W-4V from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

You can download the form, or call the IRS toll-free number 1-800-829-3676 and ask for Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. (If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call the IRS TTY number, 1-800-829-4059.)

When you complete the form, you will need to select the percentage of your monthly benefit amount you want withheld. You can have 7%, 10%, 15% or 25% of your monthly benefit withheld for taxes.

Note: Only these percentages can be withheld. Flat dollar amounts are not accepted.

 

Sign the form and return it to your local Social Security office by mail or in person.

If you need more information

If you need more information about tax withholding, read IRS Publication 554, Tax Guide for Seniors, and Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.

If you have questions about your tax liability or want to request a Form W-4V, you can also call the IRS at 1-800-829-3676 (TTY 1-800-829-4059).

 

Water, creating a balance is essential.

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Water, creating a balance is essential.

In the NY Times Science Section’s Well, Personal Health column on May 10, Jane Brody shares her experience with mild dehydration after two very physically active days.  She cites Professor Barry Popkin who talks about things we do not truly know about water, like how hydration impacts our health and well-being, or how much is really required. While there are suggested guidelines, it can be difficult to know exactly how much water you need to drink. The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day. This can vary depending on your health issues, activity level, the weather, etc.  We probably need to drink somewhere within the suggested guidelines in order to be sufficiently hydrated each day.  This may be difficult since as we age the mechanism of thirst becomes a less effective trigger for reminding us to drink water.

How can you remember to drink enough water? Have a glass at the same time and in the same place during your routine every day. Get in the habit of drinking a glass of water right after you get out of the shower, or right before you wash your face at night, put a glass of water on your nightstand so you see it before you go to bed or have a glass waiting by the coffee maker so you remember to have a glass while your coffee brews.

Cheers.

Beverages-Ice-Water

 

Preventing Falls at Home

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Preventing Falls at Home

Falls are not inevitable; it isn’t something that just happens as you get older. Falls are linked to a specific cause.  It could be that more than one underlying cause or risk factor is involved in a fall.

Falls can be linked to a person’s physical condition or a medical problem, such as a chronic disease. Other causes could be safety hazards in the person’s home or community environment.

What are some Risk Factors for falls?

  • Muscle weakness, especially in the legs, is one of the most important risk factors. People with weak muscles are more likely to fall than are those who maintain their muscle strength, as well as their flexibility and endurance.
  • Your balance and your gait — how you walk — are other key factors. Older adults who have poor balance or difficulty walking are more likely than others to fall. These problems may be linked to a lack of exercise or to a neurological cause, arthritis, or other medical conditions and their treatments.
  • Blood pressure that drops after you have been lying down or sitting can increase your chance of falling. This condition — called postural hypotension — might result from dehydration, or certain medications. It might also be linked to diabetes, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, or an infection.
  • Your reflexes may also be slower than when you were younger. The increased amount of time it takes you to react may make it harder to catch your balance if you start to fall.
  • Foot problems that cause painful feet, and wearing unsafe footwear can increase your chance of falling. Backless shoes and slippers, high-heeled shoes, and shoes with smooth leather soles are examples of unsafe footwear that could cause a fall.
  • Sensory problems can cause falls, too. If your senses don’t work well, you might be less aware of your environment. For instance, having numbness in your feet may mean you don’t sense where you are stepping.
  • Not seeing well or other vision problems can also result in falls. It may take a while for your eyes to adjust to see clearly when you move between darkness and light. Other vision problems contributing to falls include poor depth perception, cataracts, and glaucoma. Having poor lighting around your home can also lead to falls.
  • Confusion, even for a short while, can sometimes lead to falls. For example, if you wake up in an unfamiliar environment, you might feel unsure of where you are. If you feel confused, wait for your mind to clear or until someone comes to help you before trying to get up and walk around.
  • Some medications can increase a person’s risk of falling because they cause side effects like dizziness or confusion. The health problems for which the person takes the medications may also contribute to the risk of falls.

Most Falls Happen at Home

Although falls can happen anywhere, well over half of all falls happen at home. Falls at home often happen while a person is doing normal daily activities. Some of these falls are caused by factors in the person’s living environment. For instance, a slick floor or a poorly lit stairway may lead to a fall.

Other factors that can lead to falls at home include

  • loose rugs
  • clutter on the floor or stairs
  • carrying heavy or bulky things up or down stairs
  • not having stair railings
  • not having grab bars in the bathroom

Simple changes can help make your home safer.

If you do fall, what should you do?

Well, be sure to talk with your doctor if you fall. A fall could be a sign of a new medical problem that needs attention, such as an infection or a cardiovascular disorder. It could also suggest that a treatment for a chronic ailment, such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia, needs to be changed.

For the time immediately after a fall, here are some tips:

While you are still on the ground:

  1. Take several deep breaths to try to relax.
  2. Remain still on the floor or ground for a few moments. This will help you get over the shock of falling.
  3. Decide if you’re hurt before getting up. Getting up too quickly or in the wrong way could make an injury worse.

Once you are ready to get up:

  1. If you think you can get up safely without help, roll over onto your side.
  2. Rest again while your body and blood pressure adjust. Slowly get up on your hands and knees, and crawl to a sturdy chair.
  3. Put your hands on the chair seat and slide one foot forward so that it is flat on the floor. Keep the other leg bent so the knee is on the floor.
  4. From this kneeling position, slowly rise and turn your body to sit in the chair.

If you’re hurt or can’t get up, ask someone for help or call 911. If you’re alone, try to get into a comfortable position and wait for help to arrive.

For more information and resources, visit the NJ Dept of Human Services website: http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/doas/services/fallprev/

 

Take the American Medicine Chest 5 Step Challenge

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Prescription Drug Safety and Disposal

Take the American Medicine Chest 5 Step Challenge

By: Angelo M. Valente

The American Medicine Chest Challenge (AMCC) is a community based public health initiative, with law enforcement partnership, designed to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and provide a nationwide day of disposal – at a collection site or in the home – of unused, unwanted, and expired medicine. AMCC provides a unified national, statewide, and local focus on the issue of children and teens abusing prescription medicine. It is designed to generate unprecedented media attention and challenge all Americans to take the 5 Step American Chest Challenge.

It is important for households across the state of New Jersey to understand how easy it is for children and teens to abuse prescription drugs. “AMCC encourages families throughout the state of New Jersey to take the 5-Step Challenge,” said AMCC CEO, Angelo M. Valente. “We have come so far and so much has been achieved – hundreds of permanent disposal sites have been installed and thousands of tons of prescription drugs have been collected. Yet, we are still in the midst of an opiate abuse epidemic and the need for this initiative has continued to expand ever since New Jersey held the first statewide day of disposal in the nation.”

“When AMCC began addressing this issue several years ago, the answer seemed simple, dispose of the unused medicine in your home and prevent it from being diverted and abused by the young people in your life. Safe disposal opportunities have expanded in New Jersey, and now, residents in over 200 communities from across our state have safe and convenient access to a medicine disposal location,” said Valente. “The DEA recently reinstated their Drug-Take Back Day to provide additional opportunities, and the partners we have in the media are working hard to get the message out about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs. We still know that these efforts are key steps in preventing prescription drug abuse, but now we must address the epidemic of opioid abuse on all fronts. Heroin overdoses are on the rise across the country and New Jersey is ground zero.”

According to a report released in 2015 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin use has increased across the US among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. The report found that the strongest risk factor for heroin use is a history of prescription drug abuse. The greatest increases in heroin abuse have occurred in groups with historically lower rates of heroin use, including women, people with private insurance and higher incomes.

New Jersey has worked to address the issue in a 21 bill package, introduced by Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman, Joseph F. Vitale, to tackle the heroin and prescription drug epidemic that is sweeping our state. One measure requires practitioners to have a conversation with their patient about the risks of developing a physical or psychological dependence before prescribing. Another, which is now law, requires physicians to utilize the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

There are many ways we can work together to prevent opiate abuse, and stem the tide of this epidemic; we can start in our own homes. “Please encourage all of those in your community, workplace, family, and home to take the 5-Step Challenge,” said Valente.

  1. Take inventory of your prescription and over-the-counter medicine.
  2. Secure your medicine.
  3. Dispose of your unused, unwanted, and expired medicine at an American Medicine Chest Challenge Disposal site.
  4. Take your medicine(s) exactly as prescribed.
  5. Talk to your children about the dangers of prescription drug abuse… they are listening.

Information on locations to safely dispose of unused, unwanted, and expired medicine can be found on the American Medicine Chest Challenge website: www.americanmedicinechest.com or by downloading the AMCC Rx Drop mobile app.

This initiative is provided without cost to any community, government, or law enforcement agency in the country.