When I heard that Governor Chris Christie had signed the New Jersey Elder Index bill, I was thrilled. A long-term collaboration between Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) and the New Jersey Foundation for Aging had finally culminated in enactment of a bill (A3504/S2231) which will really make a difference for New Jersey seniors!
The new law, sponsored in the state legislature by Assemblyman Joseph Lagana and Senator Loretta Weinberg, gives NJs Department of Human Services (DHS) a powerful tool for assessing and addressing the needs of seniors in the statethe New Jersey Elder Economic Security Standard Index (NJ Elder Index). The NJ Elder Index is based on WOWs Elder Economic Security Standard Index (Elder Index), which was developed by WOW in association with UMass Boston Gerontology Institute. The Elder Index is a measure of what it costs older adults to make ends meetat a very basic levelin every state and county across the nation.
In New Jersey, many Area Agencies on Aging and other nonprofits have been using the NJ Elder Index for years to understand and plan around the economic conditions of those they serve, but this legislation takes it to a whole new level. The state itself will update the NJ Elder Index annually, and will consult it in making recommendations for program funding, suggesting public benefit eligibility levels, benchmarking program impacts, designing public outreach, and evaluating case management. On top of that, DHS will calculate long-term care costs for NJ seniorsa potentially very large expense for which older adults are often unprepared. Armed with this data and related research, DHS can create a more meaningful and effective response to senior needs now and in the future.
The victory is sweet for the citizens of New Jersey, specifically its seniors, and for WOW and the New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA). NJFAs Executive Director, Grace Egan and Program Manager, Melissa Chalker, have both spent many hours in briefings, presentations, and personal conversations with fellow nonprofit staff, county and state policymakers, and anyone else who would listen about the economic insecurity faced by NJ elders. A strong voice for policies and programs that help fill the gaps for struggling seniors, NJFA has constantly been in the trenches fighting to preserve and expand energy, food and housing assistance for those struggling to get by.
And so we pause to celebrate the moment, salute our partners, and acknowledge, with appreciation, the foresight of NJs Governor and legislators who have just taken a step forward for elder economic security. Hats off to all!