Senate committee approves NORC pilot project bill

Senate committee approves NORC pilot project bill

The state Senate Health and Senior Services Committee approved legislation on Sept. 20 that provides funding for a pilot NORC  (Natural Occurring Retirement Community) project in Mercer County.

The legislation calls for a pilot program in Mercer County to be administered by a lead agency authorized to provide a full array of support services to an area with a large population of seniors.

“Our NORC offers access to transportation, meals on wheels, home health aides, nursing visits and volunteer support throughout Mercer county,” Linda Meisel, Executive Director of the Jewish Family & Children's Service of Princeton — which provided groundwork on the bill — said in testimony submitted to the Senate Committee. “The average age of the participants is over 75 years of age, many are 85 plus and the great majority want to age in the community and remain in their homes.”

NORC programs such as the Greater MetroWest LIVE programs in Parsippany, Caldwell, and Verona and Secure@Home administered by Jewish Family &Children’s Service of Princeton have provided health care, transportation assistance, nutrition, socialization, and mental health counseling services to its elderly participants.

“A bill such as S-1796 has long been a goal of those in the Jewish community interested in providing a viable aging in place environment for our seniors,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations.  “The State Association and our federations have sought to establish a state funding source for the NORC programs that we have successfully implemented and administered over the years with prior federal funding and community support,” Toporek added.

The prime sponsors of S-1796 in the Senate are Mercer Senator Shirley Turner and Bergen’s Senator Loretta Weinberg, both Democrats. Senator Jennifer Beck of Monmouth County, a Republican, is a co-sponsor.

The Assembly version of the bill, A-353, originally sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora of Mercer County (D) and Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) was approved in June by the full  Assembly.

Also appearing before the Senate Committee was Dr. Emily Greenfield, professor of social work and gerontologist at Rutgers University. “The NORC program model aims to do something much more innovative and powerful than providing more services. NORC programs aim to foster meaningful and long-term relationships among service providers and elders as they work together to provide services that are more accessible, more coherent, more appropriate, and more responsive to the needs of older adults over time. In short, the goal of NORC programs is to enhance service delivery by creating robust communities that promote aging in place,” she said.

As with all legislation authorizing state funding, S-1796 has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee because it provides for an allocation of $250,000. “The State Association and our community partners on the bill, AARP of NJ and the NJ Foundation for Aging, are working to have the legislation posted as soon as possible by the Budget Committee and then adopted by the Senate,” Toporek noted.

When approved by the full Senate, S-1796 with its amendments will be returned to the Assembly for final approval of the revisions before moving on to the governor’s desk.

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