We need to do more for NJ Seniors, and we need to do it now

Opinion Editorial by Roberto Muñiz, Immediate Past Chairman,
Board of Trustees, New Jersey Foundation for Aging on 8/4/2013
Recently, the New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA) issued a press release entitled, Twenty-Five Percent of NJ’s Seniors Can’t Cover Their Basic Costs, in which they revealed that an astounding 250,000 Seniors in New Jersey over the age of 65, do not have the money to cover their basic essential costs. In recent years in our state, Seniors on fixed incomes, 25% of whom rely on Social Security as their sole income, have been facing rising expenses for food, housing, transportation and health care, resulting in hunger and even homelessness in this fragile population. Additionally, since there has been no comparable rise in income or Social Security, the widening of the gap between cost of living and income continues to expand.

As a proud U.S. citizen who is passionate about improving the lives of Seniors, I find it hard to comprehend that in such a remarkable country as ours, a quarter of NJ Seniors lack sufficient income to cover their basic essential needs at this later stage in life. Even those who have saved for retirement are struggling. Let’s not forget that Seniors are some of our most vulnerable citizens - all or most of whom, have worked hard throughout their lifetimes and paid their share of taxes into this country’s economy to make a better life for themselves and their loved ones, while making this country what it is today.

Many of our Senior population served in our military forces to protect and defend the freedoms we all enjoy today. These same Seniors deserve to live their retirement years with dignity and respect, and not have to be forced to make choices between critical needs such as food, housing, transportation or health care services. What’s more is the fact that many Seniors in NJ must serve in the capacity of unpaid caregivers to their own fragile spouses, due to the lack of affordable, quality services. Caregivers, whether Senior or not, are one of the largest providers of care and services for which there is no pay in this country.

Increased public awareness is necessary and Government agencies need to take additional action to address the problems our Seniors face, and it must be done now.

Policy and program initiatives are needed for more affordable housing options, increased accessibility to wholesome and nutritious foods, and expanded safe, reliable community transportation services. With regard to housing in particular, a recent court decision has given municipalities renewed opportunities to utilize the Housing Trust Fund to build local, affordable housing for low-income seniors and working families. We shouldn’t squander these opportunities with further delays. Let’s not forget that one day, if we are granted a long enough life, we too, will be a Senior Citizen…..it is inevitable! So let’s do more for our NJ Seniors today!

Let’s work together on providing NJ Seniors with the best quality of life they rightfully deserve. I applaud the NJFA for bringing awareness to such a terrible plight and for educating our Seniors on the community resources available to help ease this burden. I encourage all of you to read the entire NJ Elder Index report at www.njfoundationforaging.org/issues.html

Additionally, I urge you to check out the latest installment of NJFA’s Aging Insights videos. In the video, Grace Egan, Executive Director of the NJFA, references the 2012 study and interviews Adele LaTourette, Director of the NJ Anti-Hunger Coalition, and Melissa Briggs, Program Manager for Food Delivery Services, NJ Department of Health. www.youtube.com/njfoundationforaging

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Mr. Muñiz, who has more than 25 years of experience as a provider of healthcare and Senior care services, is a dedicated advocate for improving the quality of life for Seniors and has served as Chairman of the Board for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. Roberto Muñiz is President and CEO of The Francis E. Parker Memorial Home Inc., a non-profit long-term care provider of skilled nursing, assisted living, adult day care and Senior community programs.