Posts Tagged ‘NJ Elder Economic Security Index’

Testimony given by NJFA Executive Director Melissa Chalker to the inaugural meeting of the Assembly Senior Services Committee, 1/27/2020

Thursday, February 6th, 2020

 

The New Jersey Foundation for Aging’s Executive Director, Melissa Chalker, was invited to testify at the inaugural meeting of the Assembly Senior Services Committee on January 27, 2020. The committee includes Chair Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Vice-Chair Shanique Speight and members BettyLou DeCroce, DiAnne C. Gove, Angela V. McKnight and P. Christopher Tully. This was Melissa’s testimony. To read more about the meeting, see the NJ Spotlight coverage here.

“Good afternoon, Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle and members of the Assembly Senior Services Committee. Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today. I am Melissa Chalker and I’m the Executive Director of the nonprofit New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA).

NJFA was founded in 1998 by four County Office on Aging Directors. They wanted to create a statewide organization that would address public policy issues related to the changing and diverse needs of our growing aging population. Since then, we have worked with a wide variety of partner organizations, as well as state government officials, to enable older adults to live with independence and dignity in their communities.

Today, I would like to tell you about NJFA’s advocacy priorities and present some current data related to older adults.

FINANCIAL INSECURITIES

NJFA developed the state’s first Elder Index Report — a cost-of-living table — in 2009. In 2015, the NJ State Legislature passed a bill that mandated the use and updating of the report by the Dept. of Human Services — specifically the Div. of Aging Services, which I am sure my friends from the Division can tell you more about.

From the first report in 2009, through the national database update that was unveiled last week, this Elder Index data allows us to look at the cost of living for seniors in NJ, determine how many fall below the Elder Index Benchmark ($29,616 a year for a single elder renter) and focus on how they can be supported by public benefits and other programs to fill the gap.

Because of the Elder Index research, we know that 8% of New Jersey’s older adults live at or below the federal poverty level. Those seniors are among our most vulnerable — both financially and medically.

Additionally, Social Security is the only source of income for 30% of older adults in New Jersey. The average annual Social Security benefit for a retired elder in NJ is $18,065. We know that number is even lower for women, plus there are many other seniors who receive far less than the average benefit. We have received calls and letters from older adults seeking help, stating that they are trying to get by on their monthly Social Security benefit of $700. After paying their rent and health care premiums, they are often left with $100 or less for groceries, co-pays and other expenses.

In addition to those seniors living below the federal poverty level, there are older adults who may be above that benchmark, but still struggling to meet all their basic needs. In fact, the most recent NJ Elder Economic Security Index indicates that more than half (54%) of New Jersey’s seniors do not have the annual income needed to provide for their basic needs. This is what is referred to as New Jersey’s statewide Elder Economic Insecurity Rate (EEIR). These are the older adults that we refer to as being “in the gap.” That gap is having income too high to qualify for government programs, but too low to adequately cover basic expenses.

The Elder Index statistics influence much of NJFA’s advocacy work, including, but not limited to, affordable and accessible homes, nutrition and food security, and access to quality healthcare. However, this data should serve as a reminder that the state must also consider older adults when discussing tax relief programs — including property taxes — and review the structure of retirement income taxes, compared to that of neighboring states.

HOUSING INSECURITIES

Ensuring that New Jersey’s aging population has safe and affordable housing is also imperative. Two years ago, we convened a stakeholder group, which developed a policy recommendation report. I have provided a copy for each of you to review [see the report here].

In the 10 recommendations listed, you will see that we are suggesting increases in vouchers and units for older adults within existing housing programs. We also identified ways to streamline the process and implement incentives to provide more housing to older adults that is safe, affordable and accessible.

When we consider the housing needs of seniors, we must consider every senior — there is no one-size-fits-all for older adults. When implementing policies and programs, we need to recognize seniors with chronic health conditions and those who are facing economic insecurity.

Additionally, there are middle-income seniors who struggle to find appropriate, accessible places to live in their communities of choice, and worry about being able to afford all their retirement expenses — including the potential need for long-term care services, which can add up to $50,000 a year to their costs depending on the level of care. Along with our partners, we’re engaged in discourse about age-friendly communities, particularly how social and wellness services can better be incorporated.

FOOD INSECURITIES

Much like anyone in any age category, the nutritional needs of seniors are a priority. Protecting the SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] program from Federal cuts would ensure that those who rely on the program will still be able to access healthy foods. What we have learned from partners doing outreach with seniors is that often an older adult on SNAP is better able to follow a doctor’s dietary guidelines because of this benefit.

One area of need, though, is finding and educating seniors who do not know about the SNAP program, or those who fear the stigma of public benefits and the stories about the difficulty in applying for the program. My friends at the Division of Aging Services can confirm that there has been under enrollment of seniors in SNAP for quite some time.

An improvement to SNAP program would be a Standardized Medical Deduction for seniors applying for SNAP, which would make it easier for seniors to take advantage of the medical deduction provision. Having one max deduction amount that all seniors could utilize would make it easier for them to apply for, and receive, SNAP.

FAMILY CAREGIVERS

The issues and struggles surrounding informal, unpaid family caregivers have been well documented. Family members provide most of the care for older adults and individuals with disabilities here in NJ. Our healthcare system will need to respond to the continued growth of the 65+ demographic over the next decade. Relying on family caregivers to fulfill all facets of care is unrealistic; but we know that it will become a necessity for many. Therefore, we need to not only look at policy changes to the healthcare system, but also the support of caregivers.

There is an urgent need to bring greater public awareness to this issue and to advocate for caregivers. Expanding access to home-based, long-term care services for NJ’s older adults would provide some relief in that area. The state has done a great job increasing the number of people who receive home- and community-based services through the state’s MLTSS [Managed Long Term Services and Supports] program.

Therefore, NJFA continues to participate in dialogue around the need for a policy or program to address those who fall in the gap between eligibility for Medicaid and the ability to pay privately for care.

In conclusion, there is no single answer to “how do we better serve older adults in NJ,” because there isn’t just one issue. Across our nation (and even the world), longevity is increasing, which is good news. However, that means that society’s ageist views, which place barriers on the road to aging well, need to be dismantled now. Investing dollars into housing, nutrition and healthcare services (including those that benefit caregivers) will ensure that everyone in NJ has the opportunity to live a long and healthy life.

Thank you for your time.”

NJ Elder Economic Security Index

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

In 2009 NJFA released the first NJ Elder Economic Security Index Report. This report provided the cost of living for people over 65 in NJ. Not only did it determine how much seniors need to meet their basic needs in NJ, but also broke down the data for all 21 counties in NJ.

 If you are not familiar with the Index, it breaks down the cost of living for NJ seniors in several categories- Housing, Transportation, Food, Healthcare and Misc. It also looks at these costs for both single elders and those living in a two person household. The Index goes even further to differentiate the costs for renters, homeowners with a mortgage and homeowners without a mortgage. With the release of the report in 2009 this opened the eyes of many policymakers and advocates as to the high cost of living for seniors. It also highlighted the issue of what senior’s income was compared to their cost of living. The accompanying Policy Brief also looked at the benefit programs and public supports that are available

In 2012 NJFA released an Index update. Not only did NJFA update the numbers but the new report also included a demographics study. The demographics study told us how many seniors in NJ were living below the Elder Index, not just in the state of NJ, but in each county as well.

Of single and two person households over 65 in NJ, 42.6% of them live below the Elder Index. Because the Elder Index is based on the costs for either a single elder or an elder living in a two person household, the demographic study misses those who are living in a household with 3 or more people.

If in 2012 42.6% of elderly single and two person households were living below the Index in NJ, what does that mean for 2013 and beyond? If we look at the change from 2009 (the first NJ Elder Index) and 2013, some seniors have seen more than a 30% increase in their cost of living. In 2009 the cost of living for a single senior renter in NJ was estimated to be $25,941. In 2013 its $28,860, that’s an 11.25% increase in costs without an increase in income. Some seniors may find it necessary to seek employment in retirement.

Not all seniors will be able to find employment or may not even be able to work. This is where benefit programs enter the picture. Programs like PAAD or Senior Gold can help cut the cost of prescription medications. Lifeline and LIHEAP can help them to pay their utilities bills. SNAP (formerly food stamps), Farmers Market Coupons and other nutrition programs will make it easier to access healthy foods. The highest cost for seniors is their housing. So naturally affordable housing would make the biggest impact for a senior who is below the index. However, affordable housing is difficult to come by. Many seniors are on multiple waiting lists, each kept separately without a way of sharing the information.

This is why NJFA continues to advocate for all services that may benefit seniors. In order to ensure that all of NJ’s seniors can live in the community of their choice, with independence and dignity.

To view the full Elder Index Report, please visit our website at www.njfoundationforaging.org/issues.html

 

 

 

 

Affordable housing is more important than ever for low income seniors and low income families.

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Affordable housing is more important than ever for low income seniors and low income families.

A recent Appellate Division’s decision provides an important opportunity for municipalities to utilize much-needed housing trust funds to address the chronic shortage of affordable housing for low-income seniors across the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Many of these funds were specifically designated for the development of senior housing in the nine counties hardest hit by the storm. This includes 131 senior units in Monmouth County, 6 special needs unit for the elderly by Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey in Livingston, Essex County; and 5 senior rental by Catholic Charities in Harrison, Hudson County.

The court’s decision comes at a critical time in this state’s history with the high demand for affordable senior housing and the rising cost of living. In just three short years, the cost of living for seniors living in a one bedroom apartment on a fixed income in New Jersey has increased 8 percent, according to data released in 2012 by the New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA).

The cost of living for a single renter over the age of 65 was $25,941 in 2009. That same renter, living in the same one-bedroom apartment, saw her cost of living quickly climb more than $2,000 to $27,960, by 2012. However, there was not a comparable rise in income or Social Security.  Seniors on fixed incomes have been plagued in recent years with rising expenses for housing, transportation and health care. In many cases this has resulted in a rise in senior hunger and even homelessness. Their highest cost is their housing expenses.

Twenty five percent of all seniors in our state rely on Social Security as their only income. So NJ seniors can least afford the trend in rising expenses. The result is a widening of the gap between basic living expenses and their income. The NJ Elder Economic Index details these costs for seniors in each of the 21 NJ counties. These details indicate how seniors are faring in the slow economy. The latest data shows that 250,000 seniors over the age of 65 in New Jersey – representing 42 percent of single and elderly couples living in the community – do not have the money to cover their basic costs. Sixty-four percent of people in this group are women.

The report, known as the NJ Elder Economic Index, indicates that the average Social Security for a woman being $14,848. But average living expenses for a one-bedroom apartment in New Jersey has reached the $27,960 mark. So how can we expect to call these the golden years if elders must choose between food, heat, shelter or prescriptions? Even if a person worked and saved for retirement this rise in costs are unprecedented and these elders are one step from their own ‘fiscal cliff’. The New Jersey Foundation for Aging wants to alert and connect elders to resources in their community that might ease the financial strain they may be feeling each day. 

A woman receiving $14,848 from Social Security as her sole income with the average costs of a one bedroom apartment at $27,960 is only 53% economically secure.  At this income level she would be eligible for several food and nutrition programs, as well utility assistance programs. These programs would improve her quality of life and enable her to use her income to cover more of her basic living costs, but she would still fall short of meeting her costs by 21%. The only public benefit program that would help her to close the gap is affordable housing. 

The most costly portion of an elder’s monthly expenses is their housing. More than 46 percent of their income must go towards their housing, taxes and utilities.  This highlights the need for more affordable housing. The state’s housing shortage has been documented for several decades. And the need for affordable housing in the community for people of all ages has only been further stressed by the recent storms and floods across the state. Public awareness is a key component to help local advocates, state policy makers, municipal leaders and planners address current and future needs. Where you live at age 65 or 70?  Persons over age 75 and older have even fewer income assets. Where will your parents live at age 85?

If these funds are not protected and utilized, Otherwise low-income seniors and low-income families will continue to be displaced by Sandy and homeless for many years to come. Each municipality’s affordable housing trust funds are needed now more than ever for the development of new housing because of the impact of hurricane Sandy. We cannot afford to be silent on this issue. Elders who have been active in their community who want to downsize need affordable housing options; working families who want good schools and safe streets need affordable housing; health care workers who want to be close to their work and patients need affordable housing. A healthy blend of housing types is crucial to nurture a community’s cultural and social vitality as well as its economic base. “NJ Strong” must include affordable housing options to serve it residents and to build back the local economy.

*this was submitted and printed as an op-ed in the Asbury Park Press on 6/19/13 by Grace Egan, Executive Director, NJFA

Heat and Energy Assistance

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

According to the federal government (US Energy Information Administration), heating bills are expected to increase slightly this season compared to last winter. Those who heat their homes with oil can expect to see an average of about $220 or 12% more this winter. Those households that heating with natural gas are expected to spend an average of $27 or 4 % more. While those heating their homes with electricity can expect to spend an average of $18 r 2% more than last winter.

For those who need assistance the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP is now available for the coming winter season. LIHEAP is designed to help low-income families and individuals meet home heating and medically necessary cooling costs. This year, the application period is November 1, 2011 to April 30, 2012.  To apply for LIHEAP, contact the authorized local community action agency or community based organization in your area.  A list of these agencies is found at www.energyassistance.nj.gov.  For persons age 60 or over, or who are disabled, applications may be received and returned by mail.  Other households may apply by mail at the discretion of the local agency. People who participated in LIHEAP last year will receive a recertification form in the mail to renew assistance through this program.

To be eligible for LIHEAP benefits, the applicant household must be responsible for home heating or cooling costs, either directly or included in the rent; and have gross income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.  The chart below gives specific monthly gross income maximums for FFY 2012.  Persons who live in public housing and/or receive rental assistance are not eligible unless they pay for their own heating/cooling costs directly to the fuel supplier.  The amount of the LIHEAP heating benefit is determined by income, household size, fuel type, and heating region.  This year, the medically necessary cooling assistance benefit is set at $160.

For further information on LIHEAP or to locate the nearest application agency, call 1-800-510-3102.  Additional information about LIHEAP, including an application, is also available at www.energyassistance.nj.gov.

  LIHEAP

MAXIMUM MONTHLY GROSS INCOME ELIGIBILITY LEVELS
FFY 2012

Household

Size

USF

Program

LIHEAP

Program

1 $1,589 $1,815
2  $2,146 $2,452
3 $2,703 $3,089
4 $3,260 $3,725
5 $3,817 $4,362
6 $4,374 $4,999
7 $4,931 $5,635
8 $5,488 $6,272
9 $6,045 $6,909
10 $6,602 $7,333
11 $7,159 $7,485
12 $7,716 $7,638
If more than 12, add: $557 for each person $153 for each person

 If you are above the following income guidelines, but still need assistance with your heating or energy bills you may be eligible for assistance through NJ Shares. NJ SHARES provides energy assistance to moderate and fixed-income households experiencing a financial crisis. Eligibility is based on household size and income. Their clients are families and individuals who do not qualify for Federal and State assistance programs due to the household’s income. NJ SHARES Grant amounts can be up to $700 for heating source (gas, oil, propane and electric heat), and can be up to $300 for electric service. Grants must result in continuance and/or restoration of service. Applicants must demonstrate a temporary financial need and a history of good-faith payments to their energy provider.

 Eligibility Guidelines

 Applicants Must:

  • Reside in New Jersey
  • Be experiencing a financial crisis, such as a job loss or illness
  • Be behind on their energy bill, or need a fuel delivery
  • Have income over the limit for Federal programs such as the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and state programs such as the Universal Service Fund (USF).
  • Have an income level that does not exceed 400% of the Federal Poverty Level
  • Have made a good-faith payment of $100 or more within 90 days of applying for NJ SHARES (for gas and electric customers; deliverable fuel customers are excluded from this rule)

Guidelines for Seniors and the Disabled:

  • Applicants 65 years of age or older, with households of one or two members, will be eligible for NJ SHARES if the maximum household income is $80,000 annually or $6,666 monthly. Proof of age is required.
  • Applicants receiving Federal Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, with households of one or two members, will be eligible for NJ SHARES if the maximum household income is $80,000 annually or $6,666 monthly. Applicants must show proof of Federal SSD benefit.

 Required Documentation for NJ SHARES applications:

  • Documents should be furnished to the intake agency at time of application.

1) Proof of Income (last four consecutive weeks prior to application date)

2) Proof of Identification

3) Most Recent Energy Bill

Utility Assistance

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Utility Assistance        

Between these difficult economic times and extreme weather (how’d you like that heat wave?) it is easy to understand why some households may be having trouble paying their energy bills. PSE&G has recognized that many of their customers have fallen on hard times and so they’ve come up with a new program to offer assistance.

The program is called TRUE, Temporary Relief for Utility Expenses and it is designed to help moderate income households who are having difficulty paying their PSE&G bill. The TRUE program provides a one-time grant of up to $1,500 ($750 for gas and $750 for electric) for households that are not eligible for other low income programs.

To be eligible for TRUE customers must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Must have an annual income for a one person household of at least $21,672 and not more than $57,120. A two person household income between $29,000 and $69,853. A household of four must have an annual income between $44,112 and $103,034. To see income requirements for other household sizes visit, www.pseg.com/true_guidelines
  • Be 45 or more days past due on their energy bill and/or have received a service discontinuation notice (shutoff notice)
  • Demonstrate that four payments of at least $25 each have been made with the past six months
  • Not have received LIHEAP or USF benefits in the last year.

In addition to the TRUE program, there are other programs available to help customers pay their energy bills:

  • The Universal Service Fund (USF) (1-866-240-1347) helps make energy bills more affordable for low income customers with a $5 to $150 monthly credit.
  • NJ SHARES (1-866-657-3273) helps moderate income customers not eligible for low income programs to the TRUE program, with up to $300 toward electric bills and $700 toward natural gas bills.
  • NJ Lifeline (1-800-792-9745) helps seniors and disabled adults with a $225 yearly credit towards their PSE&G bills.

 For more information on energy assistance programs or to download applications, please visit www.pseg.com/help or www.pseg.com/ayuda. Applications are also available at all PSE&G walk in Customer Service Centers listed on your PSE&G bill. For access to billing information and payment history, customers can sign up for My Account at www.pseg.com.