2022 AARP NJ Advocacy Priorities
In the past year, 41% of New Jersey voters 50 and older considered leaving the state to live elsewhere.
Our current systems are failing New Jerseyans, especially older New Jerseyans. Out of the 41% who are considering leaving New Jersey, 75% say they want lower taxes and 73% want a lower overall cost of living. New Jersey is in an affordability crisis, and everyone should be concerned.
On behalf of our more than 1 million Garden State members and all older New Jerseyans, our priorities in 2022 are focused on solutions that will make New Jersey a place to stay for life.
Property Tax Relief for 50+ Residents
New Jersey homeowners and renters are fed up with paying the highest property taxes in the nation. New Jersey is home to 1.6 million Social Security beneficiaries, with a quarter relying on Social Security for 90% of their income. The average Social Security income in New Jersey is just over $20,000, while the average property tax bill in New Jersey is about $9,300.
According to a recent AARP poll, 42% of New Jersey homeowners and 36% of renters 50 and older have considered fleeing the state due to property taxes. New Jersey voters 50 and older say property taxes are the most difficult household expense to pay each month.
In fact, the report finds that 28% of homeowners 50 and older say their mortgage payment is 40% or more of their monthly income before taxes, and 43% of renters say their rent payment is 40% or more of their monthly income before taxes. The financial burden on renters represents a real equity issue in New Jersey. Renters, who indirectly pay property taxes, are more likely to be low-income, single, separated, divorced or widowed.
The Need for Fairer and More Equitable Property Taxes
New Jersey property taxes are among the most regressive. They are based on the value of one’s residence, rather than a taxpayer’s current income and ability to pay. AARP supports establishing a new property tax circuit breaker program that directs relief to residents facing the highest tax burden relative to their incomes. Like the circuit breaker in an electrical panel, relief would be “tripped” when property taxes exceed a set threshold percentage of income. Above that level, the circuit breaker kicks in and residents pay only a certain percentage over the threshold. Circuit breaker programs protect residents from a property tax “overload” just like an electrical circuit breaker.
AARP applauds Governor Murphy’s efforts to reduce the property tax burden as a central component of his proposed FY ’23 budget. AARP is reviewing the ANCHOR proposal and recommends taxes be related to one’s current income and ability to pay, rather than the value of one’s residence. We look forward to learning more and working together to maximize its impact.
S1501/A3270 and S259/A2164
Converts Senior Freeze reimbursement into a credit applied directly to property tax bills. Eighty percent of New Jersey voters 50 and older support converting the Senior Freeze to a credit, allowing participants to save money upfront instead of waiting to receive money back as a refund.
Increases gross income tax credit for homestead property taxes paid from $50 to $200.
Increases, from 18 percent to 30 percent, amount of rental payments defined as rent constituting property taxes for purposes of deduction from gross income for property tax payments. AARP recommends this bill be converted to a fully refundable credit to provide assistance to our lowest income residents who may not need to file tax returns, but are paying property taxes through their rent.
Increases distribution to municipalities from Energy Tax Receipts Property Tax Relief Fund over five years to restore municipal aid reductions; requires additional aid to be subtracted from municipal property tax levy. Until 2008, energy tax funds were passed along to local governments. That year, a change in budget language diverted the funds to the state’s general fund, and the diversion has not been corrected since. Returning these funds to municipalities will help lower property taxes.
Fair Prescription Drug Prices
Americans are sick and tired of paying the highest prices in the world for their prescription drugs. It's outrageous to have to pay three times what people in other countries pay for the same medicine.
More than two out of three New Jersey voters 50 and older are concerned they won’t be able to afford the medicines they need in the future; yet, prescription drug prices continue to rise faster than inflation.
It’s wrong that even during a pandemic and financial crisis, drug companies increased the prices of nearly 1,000 drugs in January 2021 alone, including those for chronic conditions that people over age 50 depend on.
Too many Garden State residents are forced to choose between life-saving medications and paying rent, buying food, and meeting other critical needs.
S329/A1747 (Singleton, Beach/McKeon, Moen, McKnight)
Establishes Prescription Drug Affordability Board
In order to achieve real and lasting relief for all consumers, New Jersey must address the root cause of the problem – the high and unaffordable prices set by drug manufacturers.
Establishing a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) will finally shed light into what has been a very tightly sealed black box. The PDAB brings together subject matter experts to take a comprehensive look at all parts of the supply chain, analyze the whole distribution system, including the review of stakeholder provided data, to determine if prescription prices are reasonable and justified.
Even more important is that the PDAB will be able to recommend appropriate ways for the state to address prescription drug prices that create affordability challenges for consumers and the state. This step is crucial given overwhelming evidence that shame alone is not enough to change drug companies’ pricing practices. The board would recommend actions, including establishing an upper payment limit on what state programs will pay for a medication, bulk purchasing and/or allowing importation from other countries.
Drug companies will remain free to charge whatever they like; the board would simply give the legislature their expert opinion on whether New Jerseyans are being price gouged, and if so, provide a toolkit for the legislature to take action.
Eighty-two percent of New Jersey voters 50 and older support the creation of a PDAB –with bipartisan support.
We urge our lawmakers to stand up to Pharma and pass legislation that will not just monitor and shift costs, but will stop unreasonable and unjustified prescription drug prices.
We already know we’re getting ripped off, but a Prescription Drug Affordability Board tells us what we’re going to do about it.
A Safer & Better Quality System of Long-Term Care
While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken an overwhelming toll on all New Jerseyans, it has impacted older adults the most. Tragically, nearly 95% of deaths from COVID-19 have been among people 50 and older. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated longstanding deficiencies within our long-term care system, highlighting the need to improve the quality and safety and serve more people at home, where they want to be.
Eighty-seven percent of New Jersey voters 50 and older would prefer to receive long-term services and supports at home. Not only is home care preferred, but it’s also much less expensive. Nursing home care in New Jersey costs approximately $12,000 per month, while home care costs approximately $5,600 per month.
Safe and Quality Nursing Homes
New Jersey should establish a pay-for-performance system to improve nursing facility quality and safety that incentivizes:
Expanding the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)
PACE is another model of home and community-based care supporting people 55 and older who need the skills of a nursing home, but are able to live safely in the community with support. PACE is one of the oldest and most successful models of integrating services for people with acute and long-term care needs. New Jersey should increase the number of people served by current PACE organizations in their current communities and increase the number of PACE organizations and number of communities served by the current PACE model.
Balancing Long-Term Services and Supports to Expand Home and Community-Based Services
Most New Jersey voters 50 and older would prefer to receive long-term services and supports at home. Unfortunately, only 21% of New Jersey’s Medicaid and state-funded spending goes toward home and community-based services for older adults, ranking the state 46th in the nation. In comparison, the national average is 45.1% and New Mexico rates the highest with 73.5%. AARP supports establishing enforceable benchmarks to bring New Jersey’s spending to the national average. These benchmarks should also assess whether any groups are being left behind.
Expanding Presumptive Eligibility to Home and Community-Based Services
Individuals who cannot afford to pay for in-home services out of pocket must wait for a Medicaid eligibility determination before services start. On the other hand, nursing homes are generally willing to admit someone and start services while the person’s Medicaid eligibility is determined. The time period between application and final approval of Medicaid home and community-based services can be particularly perilous for individuals with limited resources.
Presumptive eligibility allows applicants for Medicaid home and community-based services to temporarily access these services at the point when a need arises, while the formal administrative process to determine Medicaid eligibility is pending. New Jersey should level the playing field and allow presumptive eligibility for both home and community-based services and institutional care.
Supporting Family Caregivers
In New Jersey, family caregivers provide unpaid care valued at $13 billion annually, helping their older loved ones stay at home, and out of costly taxpayer-funded nursing home care. Nursing home care in New Jersey costs approximately $12,000 per month, while in-home care costs approximately $5,600 per month. The 1 million family caregivers in New Jersey are the bedrock of our long-term care system, yet receive little support.
Those who shoulder this unpaid role risk the stress, physical strain, competing demands, and financial hardship of caregiving, and thus are vulnerable to health and financial strain themselves.
On average, family caregivers spend 26% of their income on caregiving activities. Nearly eight in 10 caregivers report having routine out-of-pocket expenses related to looking after their loved one. On average, caregivers spend $7,242 annually on care-related expenses.
Most family caregivers (six in 10) are working plus providing care 23 hours per week. One in 10 working caregivers have had to give up work entirely in order to care for a loved one. Family caregivers 50 and older who leave the workforce to care for a parent lose nearly $304,000, on average, in income and benefits over their lifetime.
In addition, caregivers’ savings are eroding, with 22 percent who used up personal short-term savings and 12 percent who used up long-term savings (for things like retirement or education). Two in 10 have left bills unpaid or paid them late (19 percent), while another 15 percent borrowed money from family or friends. Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) have taken on more debt. One in 10 have been unable to afford basic expenses like food (11 percent).
Caregivers are an integral component of our long-term care system and keeping loved ones in their homes, where they want to be. It’s essential we support family caregivers in their critical need for financial support.
A1802/S2021 (Lampitt, Schaer, Mosquera, Benson, McKnight, Sumter/Beach)
Establishing the Caregiver’s Assistance Act, which provides a fully refundable gross income tax credit for certain expenses paid or incurred for care and support of a qualifying senior family member.
Who qualifies for the credit?
Residents with incomes of $100,000/year or less if married or a civil union partner; residents with incomes of $50,000/year or less if single.
Who is a qualified senior family member?
A person who is 60 years or older; a relative of the caregiver who lives with the caregiver for at least six months of the year; and has an income of $20,000 or less if married or a civil union partner or $13,000 or less if single.
What is the amount of the credit?
22.5% of up to $3,000 in qualified care expenses paid or incurred by the caregiver. The maximum amount of each credit is $675 per year.
Is the credit fully refundable?
Yes. A qualified caregiver is eligible to receive the benefits of the credit even if the caregiver’s income is below the minimum subject to tax.
What are qualified care expenses?
Expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year for the purchase, lease, or rental of property and services that are necessary to allow the senior family member to be live at the caregiver’s home. Services can include home health agency services, adult day care, companionship services, personal care attendant, homemaker and respite care services, home modification services, health care equipment and supplies.
AARP New Jersey advocates to protect the ability of older adults to access affordable and reliable utilities, including gas, electric, water and high-speed internet services. We fight to ensure rates and policies are fair and affordable, services are reliable, and we work to combat efforts that try to reduce oversight from consumer advocates or unjustly increase prices, including new or higher fees or surcharges. Increased utility costs cause higher expenses that pose a challenge for older adults, particularly those living on low or fixed incomes, leading them to make tradeoffs that directly impact their health and well-being. Of household expenses that are difficult to pay each month, nearly three in ten (28%) of NJ voters 50 and older find it difficult to pay their utilities, which is second only to the difficulty of paying New Jersey's highest in the nation property taxes.
The economic effects of COVID-19 continue to jeopardize residents’ financial security. More must be done to help families maintain access to energy, water and internet at home.
Protecting New Jersey residents 50 and older from utility shut offs. Many older adults have low or fixed incomes and depend on utilities for employment, education, medical services, social connection and access to emergency services.
Expanding existing and establishing new utility bill payment assistance programs, including flexible payment arrangements. AARP also supports increasing efforts to ensure customers are educated about and directed to available utility assistance programs.
Requires BPU to conduct a study of the effects of COVID-19 on local and public utility service and to quarterly collect and publish certain local and utility services and customer information.
Requires Division of Rate Counsel to consider environmental impacts of proposed rates or service measures when representing public interest in certain proceedings and appeals.
The New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, like other consumer advocate offices around the country, seeks to level the playing field. It gives residential customers a voice in matters that affect rates and consumer protections. In New Jersey, the Division of Rate Counsel has played an essential role in ensuring rates are fair, reasonable and more affordable, saving consumers billions of dollars in proposed rate increases.
While AARP supports the goals of the state to transition to clean energy sources, we oppose blurring the role of the Division of Rate Counsel.
As part of its decision-making process, the BPU deserves to hear independent recommendations from various and distinct perspectives about issues surrounding utility regulations.
Utilities and other interest organizations, including those focused on environmental issues, have lawyers and experts that present before regulatory agencies and courts.
AARP believes the best decision-making model for utility regulation is to have separate advocates address each policy goal, rather than collapse those regulatory goals into one over-worked agency.
The Division of Rate Counsel is an important component of New Jersey public utility regulation, and the office's independence is of paramount importance. New Jersey ratepayers need at least one clear watchdog in their corner.
AARP believes all eligible Americans should get vaccinated to protect themselves, their loved ones and to end this pandemic once and for all. AARP urges all eligible Americans to get the booster shot to ensure they stay protected from COVID-19.
To protect our most vulnerable, nursing homes and all long-term care settings should require staff, residents, and visitors to be vaccinated. AARP believes every American should have access to the vaccine, including those who are homebound.
AARP is a trusted source of information on the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. Our New Jersey COVID-19 Vaccine Guide can help people find out where and when they can get vaccinated. Visit our guide at aarp.org/NJVaccine.
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