Posts Tagged ‘NJ SNAP’

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.”

Getting Ready for Summer

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Are you ready for summer weather?

We’re now in the middle of summer and it’s time to make sure you’re prepared for hot, long days and more time!

But, you may be thinking, what do I need to do to prepare? What do I even need to prepare for?

Although summer may be the season of sun and relaxation for many, it’s one of our “extreme” seasons alongside winter. As such, there are many preparations to make and precautions to take whether you’re an older adult, a caregiver or both. And, of course, it’s the perfect time to get other things done you may have been putting off during winter.

 

  1. Be prepared for hot days: Make sure you have access to a cool place for the hottest of days. Keep in mind that heat susceptibility is a problem for our bodies as we age, and overheating can be deadly—especially for those with medical conditions, young children, and older adults. For those who have and can afford air conditioning, use air conditioning as needed. For those who do not have access to air conditioning, use a fan and keep ice on hand, if possible. You can also look for cooling centers near you, such as libraries or senior centers, or contact NJ 2-1-1 for help finding a cooling center near you.

In addition, make sure to check on anyone you are a caregiver for during the hottest times of the year, and neighbors and friends. Also practice basic heat stroke prevention: drink plenty of cool fluids, stay out of the sun during the peak hours of 10 AM-4PM, and find shade/cool indoors as soon as you begin to feel overheated. Caffeine, alcohol, and certain medications may increase your risk of dehydration (which will increase your risk of overheating), so be aware of any increased risk of dehydration and adjust your fluid intake and activity level accordingly.

 

  1. Storm and hurricane preparation: Summer storms have already been severe this year and will continue to be, and hurricanes at the end of summer can be devastating. There are many steps that should go into emergency preparation for storms and hurricanes. Luckily, we’ve prepared a full list of steps to take in a previous blog post, which you can read here: (Disaster Preparedness and Safety)

 

  1. Make preparations for vacations: If you are a caregiver, make sure the person you provide care for will be cared for while you are gone—even if all they need is a person they can call in case of emergency. If you plan to travel and receive care or assistance from someone make sure to speak to your doctor and/or formal or informal caregivers to let them know of your plans and determine any equipment/supplies you might need to take or any arrangements you might need to make for your care.

 

  1. If you have concerns about paying for summer or winter cooling/heating costs, now is the perfect time to get in touch with NJ SHARES or your own utility company to see if you’re eligible for utility assistance programs. Several different continual assistance programs, one-time grant programs, and payment plans are available through different agencies and have different eligibility requirements. You can read more about these programs and the availability of energy assistance programs in the 2019 Summer issue of Renaissance here on page 6: Renaissance Summer 2019

 

  1. If you need meal assistance during the summer (for any reason), see if you’re eligible for SNAP. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is currently underenrolled, with only 48% of eligible adults in New Jersey currently enrolled. Don’t assume that you don’t qualify for SNAP benefits, apply today! Learn more about the program and apply for NJ SNAP here: NJ SNAP

 

  1. Because older adults are more susceptible to illnesses carried by biting insects (e.g., West Nile Virus). Plan on wearing long, protective clothing when outside or apply bug spray.

 

  1. Read up on policy updates and changes to your communities at the local, state, and national level! Now is the perfect time to learn more about the 2020 Census and changes coming to your communities. We’ll be releasing a blog post later this summer with updates and news on several different public policies and acts—check our blog throughout the summer for more updates!

 

If you have feedback or would like to be part of the conversation, leave us a comment below or email us as [email protected].

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 EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others.