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Local leaders optimistic about aging-in-place bill
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Local leaders optimistic about aging-in-place bill

Jewish leaders and other advocates for the elderly are hopeful that a newly introduced bill will herald state aid to naturally occurring retirement communities.

The legislation, passed on March 5 by the New Jersey State Assembly’s Health and Senior Services Committee, would allocate $250,000 to a pilot NORC program in the Mercer County district of its sponsor, Assembly member Reed Gusciora (D-Dist. 15).

The bill would provide some medical, social, and transportation services in Mercer County, with two-year grants to housing complexes and/or senior citizens’ centers.

It must be approved by the Assembly as well as the State Senate.

To those involved with eldercare programs, the bill could foreshadow a greater investment from Trenton to replace the now defunct federal earmarks that several NJ congressmen had arranged for NORCs in their districts.

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, told NJ Jewish News he is seeking to determine “if we can expand the bill to a more statewide approach.”

Linda Meisel, director of the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Mercer County, said she and her colleagues “appreciate the assemblyman’s recognition that aging-in-place projects are important to the community.”

Hers is the lead agency for nine organizations involved in the United Aging and Disabilities Project operated by the county’s United Way. It provides aging-in-place services and programs for people with disabilities throughout the county.

“We hope that as the legislature looks to agencies to provide the services, they look to agencies like ours,” said Meisel. “We have had long-time experiences with federal NORC grants.”

As with other social welfare requests in a time of austerity budgets, NORC funding in Mercer County and elsewhere will require bipartisan support in the Legislature and the signature of Gov. Chris Christie — an opponent of much government spending. Advocates are cautious but optimistic.

Karen Alexander, director of eldercare services for United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, covering Essex and Morris counties, told NJJN, “In this funding environment, for the state to be making an investment in NORC funding is very exciting. It is good news for all of us who are interested in aging-in-place programs.”

“I don’t think this is a matter of partisanship,” said Assembly member Amy Handlin, a Republican from District 13, which covers Monmouth County. “I come at it from the perspective of someone who was involved in discussions around NORCs benefiting Holocaust survivors in particular. I have a long history of appreciating and being supportive of NORCs. But I can’t predict and wouldn’t want to guess” whether the bill will get broad bipartisan support.

“We are watching every dime in the state budget, and when it comes before the Legislature it will be weighed against many other priorities that people are eager to find money for,” the lawmaker told NJJN.

Meisel said that people “who are interested in the bottom line” understand that seniors remaining in their home communities as they age “is more cost-effective and provides people with the necessary services they need.”

Toporek is hopeful. “I know that in the conversations we had, the governor indicated he liked the approach of aging-in-place, but it depends on the money that is available,” he said. “We’ll see.”

To Meisel, money going to NORCS is well-spent.

Such funds are “a recognition that there is a dramatic increase in the number of people who are aging,” she said. “In Mercer County, one of the largest cohorts is the 80-plus group. They are using the majority of the aging-in-place services, and we know they are cost effective. If you are a consumer and leave your community to go to a nursing home, you are no longer buying groceries or paying taxes in the community. You lose your opportunities for choice when you move into a facility.”

In NORCs, she said, “you still have your connections to your church, your synagogue, your senior club, your library. All the connections people have had for 50 years still remain in their lives.”

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