Lagana Bill to Require Annual Elder Index Updates Continues Advancing

Legislation Aims to Increase Financial Stability for Senior Citizens

Legislation Assemblyman Joseph Lagana sponsored to help ensure that senior citizens can afford to continue living in New Jersey recently was advanced by a Senate panel.

“Seniors on a fixed income are among the hardest hit when the costs of housing, health care, fuel and utilities increase, and many simply cannot cover even basic expenses,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Regularly updating the New Jersey Elder Index will enable the state to coordinate and deliver public benefits and services to older adults in need more effectively.”

The bill (A-3504) would require the New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS) to use and update the New Jersey Elder Economic Security Standard Index and related data. By measuring the income older adults need to make ends meet and remain in their own homes, the New Jersey Elder Index helps seniors and policymakers quantify economic security among older New Jersey residents and evaluate public programs in place to assist seniors.

“Older New Jersey residents who have spent their whole lives working hard to provide for their families and build up this state shouldn’t have to choose between buying medication and buying groceries,” said Lagana. “Making sure that seniors have the highest quality of life possible begins with gaining an accurate sense of how much they can expect to pay for housing, transportation, food and health care.”

An estimated three in five seniors living alone in Bergen and Passaic counties are below the economic security line and experience ongoing anxiety regarding their finances, Lagana said.

Under the legislation, DHS would be required to update the Elder Index annually using the most recent publicly available data on the costs to live in each county. DHS would also be required to provide the number and percentage of single and couple senior households with incomes below the Index, categorized by gender, housing status, race and ethnicity and age.

The data sources to be used shall include:

  • Fair market rents, published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development;
  • Home ownership costs, published by the U.S. Census Bureau in the American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample;
  • Low-cost food plan, published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture;
  • Medicare Part A and Part B and out-of-pocket costs, published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services;
  • Medicare Advantage and Part D contract and enrollment data, published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services;
  • Annual miles driven by seniors, from the National Household Travel Survey, published by the U.S. Department of Transportation;
  • Automobile operation costs per miles driven, published by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service; and
  • Miscellaneous expenses, including clothing, shoes, paper products, cleaning products, household items, personal hygiene items and a landline telephone, calculated at 20 percent of housing, food, health care and transportation.

DHS also would be required to calculate long-term care costs in addition to the core Elder Index.

The bill would require DHS to refer to the Elder Index and related data when: making recommendations for funding to the governor and the legislature, establishing public benefit income eligibility limits, calculating the change in economic security levels in order to benchmark the impact of public benefit programs for seniors, designing public outreach programs and evaluating case management initiatives that capture the incomes of public benefit program participants and track the impact of the resulting economic security benefit for these participants.

The measure, which received approval from the full Assembly in November, was released on Monday by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.