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June 26, 2017

The Meadowlands attracts tens of thousands of birds each year, representing more than 200 species — including 35 endangered, threatened, or species of special concern, according to the New Jersey Audubon Society. In fact, between 2004 and 2006, the society recorded more than 150,000 birds — from raptors, to songbirds, to waterfowl — in the Meadowlands, which offers a diversity of habits and sits in the Atlantic Flyway, a major migration corridor.

That’s great news for birdwatchers and conservationists. Unfortunately, it’s not such wonderful news for the birds.

Development in the area, especially buildings with reflective walls or transparent surfaces, is killing birds who can’t distinguish the barriers and think they are flying into open air. At night, glass buildings can attract migrating birds that mistake reflections for navigational cues normally provided by stars and the moon.

This spring, New Jersey Audubon conducted surveys at 12 tall buildings in the area and found more than 250 individuals of 50 species that had collided with buildings in April and May. Of these, more than half were dead and the rest were injured.

It is possible to design buildings to reduce the number of bird strikes, using opaque glass, creating designs on transparent surfaces, and implementing innovative lighting systems. At the moment, though, compliance is voluntary. New legislation (A-4795) sponsored by Assemblyman Tim Eustace would mandate that designers, developers, and builders take steps to reduce bird strikes.

June 23, 2017

First funded in 1968 under former Gov. Richard Hughes, New Jersey's Educational Opportunity Fund provides personal support and financial aid to more than 17,000 low-income college students throughout the state. 

But the budget that Gov. Chris Christie proposed earlier in 2017 for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 called for a reduction in funding for the Educational Opportunity Fund by $3.6 million. 

Democrats who control the Legislature have drafted their own version of the 2018 fiscal year spending plan, and according to preliminary figures provided to NJ Spotlight, they intend to restore the cut proposed by Christie, and then provide another $1.4 million to the program. That would push the total EOF allocation up to $43.8 million. 

Still, it's not certain the Democrats’ effort to boost EOF funding will make it into the final version of the fiscal 2018 budget, because the state constitution gives Christie the final say.

June 22, 2017

Even though the U.S. Senate has yet to release the details of its version of the GOP’s American Health Care Act, the iteration that the House passed — without any changes — “would have devastating consequences to New Jersey’s residents, public health, and economy,” according to a new report from New Jersey Policy Perspective.

For starters, the AHCA would strip insurance from 540,000 New Jerseyans and cause the state's uninsurance rate to spike by 50 percent by 2026. What’s more, by repealing Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies, the AHCA would result in a $28 billion loss in federal funds over 10 years and cut about 54,000 jobs.

The coverage, federal funding and job losses would be severe in every New Jersey Congressional district. Coverage loss ranges from 30,000 to 65,000; percentage increase in the uninsured ranges 44 percent to 112 percent; annual federal funding lost ranges from $251 million to $638 million; and job loss ranges from 2,761 to 7,006.

June 21, 2017

Generic drugs have saved the U.S. health care system $1.67 trillion in the last decade, with $253 billion saved in 2016 alone. The savings for New Jersey in 2016 were $7 billion. That’s according to the 2017 Generic Drug Access and Savings in the United States Report, which is compiled on behalf of the Association for Accessible Medicines (AAM).

New Jersey’s 2016 savings were for commercial insured ($3.3 billion), Medicare ($2.2 billion), Medicaid ($1.3 billion), and cash for the non-insured ($279 million).

The report noted that while generics make up 89 percent of prescriptions dispensed they account for only 26 percent of total spending on medicine.

One telling difference between brand and generic drugs, as analyzed in the report, concerns “abandonment behavior” — whether patients pick up or abandon a medication they have requested at a pharmacy. It turns out that abandonment rates for brand-name drugs are 266 percent higher than for generic drugs, with cost playing a significant role in that abandonment.

June 20, 2017

The Jersey Shore. Liberty State Park. Ellis Island. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Six Flags Great Adventure. The Paterson Great Falls … We don’t know whether the folks at WalletHub need to clean their windshield or open their eyes, but we are gobsmacked by our rock-bottom ranking for summer tourist attractions in its 2017 Best and Worst States for Summer Road Trips.

Garden State residents looking to salvage some pride can take some slight solace in the state’s overall ranking of 42, which put it right between Montana and Kansas.

According to the methodology, WalletHub’s data team compared the 50 U.S. states in terms of 22 key indicators of a fun and frugal summer road trip. The data set ranges from average gas prices to the quality of roads to the number of attractions.

Perhaps native-born jazz genius John Pizzarelli sang it best.

June 19, 2017

New Jersey hospitals and health systems support their communities with free and discounted healthcare services, community health improvement programs, education, research, and other benefits valued at $2.75 billion. That’s according to the new report, “N.J. Hospitals Caring for Their Communities,” from the New Jersey Hospital Association.

That’s a tidy sum, but the largest portion by far — $2.2 billion — comprises unpaid costs of patient care. The total breaks down as follows: $646 million in unreimbursed charity care services for the uninsured and working poor; $276.2 million in unpaid care for Medicare patients; $147 million in unpaid care for Medicaid beneficiaries; and $1.1 billion in uncollectable costs for treatment (bad debt).

Also included in the total: $73.3 million in community health improvement services; $122 million in health professions education; $351 million in other community services and programs, such as clinical research, contributions to municipalities and healthcare programs that operate at a loss and are subsidized by the hospital.

The report relies on data from 2015 (the most current available) and is based on survey responses from 52 hospitals extrapolated to represent contributions from New Jersey’s 71 acute-care hospitals.

June 16, 2017

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development is right in trumpeting the good news: New Jersey’s unemployment rate remains at 4.1 percent, a 16-year low. The same press release tucked some less-happy news in the second paragraph, however: The private sector shed 14,000 jobs in May. The department reports that the private sectors that posted a loss in May include professional and business services (-9,000); trade, transportation, and utilities (-2,400); financial activities (-1,400); education and health services (-800); information (-500); and leisure and hospitality (-400).

June 15, 2017

Gov. Chris Christie has done it again — ratcheting up to historic levels the rate at which New Jersey voters disapprove of him. A Quinnipiac University poll, released yesterday, found that 81 percent of voters disapprove of him versus 15 percent who approve; it’s the worst approval rating for a governor in any state that Quinnipiac has surveyed in the past twenty years. Even 58 percent of voters in his own Republican Party give the governor a thumbs-down.

The poll also found that voters strongly disapprove of President Donald Trump — but he’s still not down in the Christie range (66 – 28 percent).

Voter approval of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (58 – 28 percent) is markedly higher than that of his Senate colleague, Robert Menendez (44 – 35 percent). Another worrying number for Menendez is that 44 percent of voters say he does not deserve re-election next year versus 31 percent who say that he does.

June 14, 2017

If it becomes law, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), as passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, could cost New Jersey an estimated 42,000 jobs by 2026, according to "The American Health Care Act: Economic and Employment Consequences for States," published today by researchers at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health and The Commonwealth Fund.

New Jersey is just one of the 10 states that would be lose the most jobs. The other nine are New York (86,000 jobs lost), Pennsylvania (85,000), Florida (83,000), Michigan (51,000), Illinois (46,000), Ohio (42,000), North Carolina (41,000), California (32,000), and Tennessee (28,000).

The report estimates that nearly 1 million jobs would disappear by 2026; gross state products — an economic measure akin to gross domestic product could fall by $93 billion by then, while state business output could fall by $148 billion.

June 13, 2017

Of New Jersey children receiving a subsidized school lunch, just 19 percent benefited from the federal summer meals program last year, according to the “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report” released today by the Food Research and Action Center.

The state ranked a relatively high 12th place nationally, but still fed summer lunches to a significantly smaller percentage of children than the goal set by FRAC. New Jersey also left $6.7 million in federal dollars on the table by not providing summer meals to more students.

Many New Jersey children face hunger in the summer when school meals are not available to the roughly 428,000 children who rely on getting breakfast or lunch or both at school during the academic year.

To reach the FRAC goal of providing summer meals to 40 percent of those getting subsidized school meals, New Jersey would have to feed an additional 90,000 children. Last July, the state served almost 81,000 children summer meals on an average day.

Still, New Jersey fed about 2 percent more children last summer than in July 2015, boosting its ranking from 14th place to 12th and bucking an overall decline nationally — nearly 5 percent fewer children got summer meals in 2016 than the year before. The state also increased the number of sites offering summer meals by nearly 22 percent.

“While we commend communities for the progress that has been made, it’s clear that we can — and must — do more,’’ said Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

This year, the state Department of Agriculture estimates New Jersey will have 1,400 meal sites at parks, pools, schools, libraries, and other places where children congregate in the summer. Meal sites have steadily increased over the past two years, due in part to efforts by the department and the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign. Typically, school districts, local governments, and community organizations serve as meal sponsors.

June 12, 2017

It’s no secret that New Jersey is a pricey place to live — whether you own a house or rent an apartment. In fact, it’s the sixth most-expensive state in the United States for renters; only Hawaii, California, New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts are more costly. (Washington, D.C., which is counted separately, also is more expensive.)

What does the Garden State’s No. 6 ranking mean? Consider this: the hourly housing wage — the amount a resident would have to earn to pay for two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent — is $27.31. And there are a lot of folks who don’t earn that sort of pay, including social-service workers, dental lab technicians, emergency dispatchers, preschool teachers, accounting clerks, childcare workers, home health aides, school bus drivers, security guards, janitors, hairstylists, receptionists, cashiers, and others — according to a new national report, “Out of Reach,” from the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey and the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The average wage for a New Jersey renter is $17.86 an hour. At that salary it would take them 60 hours a week to afford that modest two-bedroom. At minimum wage — $8.44 an hour — a New Jersey resident would have to work 129 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom at FMR.

June 9, 2017

It’s National Safety Month and Vermont has been decreed the safest state in the nation and Louisiana the least safe. That’s according to WalletHub, the personal finances website, which analyzed a range of data concerning personal and residential safety, road safety, crime, law enforcement numbers, bullying, etc.

New Jersey registered in the top five of only two categories; it came in fourth for fewest fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel — let’s hear it for Jersey drivers! And the Garden State ranked second for most law enforcement per capita. (Louisiana had the most).

New Jersey’s overall safety ranking among the states was 15th, two places below New York (13) and seven places ahead of Pennsylvania (22).

Finally, a statistic of note in the context of the gubernatorial election, in which the Republican and Democratic candidates both cite the state’s lack of affordability as a concern: New Jersey ranked 38th in financial safety.

June 8, 2017

Despite New Jersey’s laggard economy and financial challenges, it scored a creditable 21 on a recent assessment of the best and worst state economies from WalletHub, the personal finances website. The analysis evaluated all 50 states and the District of Columbia using three overall categories: economic activity (New Jersey scored 11), economic health (47), and innovation potential (11). Each category reflects weighted scores using a total of 27 metrics.

New York was ranked 19th, scoring 7 (economic activity), 47 (economic health), and 18 (innovation potential). Pennsylvania was ranked 30th: 25, 41, 27.

Washington finished at the top of the list, scoring an impressive 1 (activity), 4 (health), and 3 (innovation potential). West Virginia took the 51st slot, with scores of 48, 49, and 51.

June 7, 2017

New Jersey Career Connections has a service set up to help veterans in the Garden State find a job. And there are several commercial programs, like We Hire Heroes, set up to do the same thing.

Now an Assembly bill (A-305) could help encourage employers to hire vets, by offering a $1,200 business tax credit and gross income-tax credit for qualified wages of each veteran hired by a company. The two credits established by this bill would provide an employer with a credit in the amount of 10 percent of the wages paid to a veteran —up to $1,200 per year.

“The New Jersey Battlefield to Boardroom Act” defines a qualified veteran as a resident of New Jersey initially hired by the taxpayer on or after January 1, 2007 who has been honorably discharged or released from active service, occurring on or after January 1, 1990 in any branch of the Armed Forces of the United States.

The bill is the handiwork of Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Cleopatra Tucker, Gabriela Mosquera, and Daniel Benson.

June 6, 2017

Some 1.15 million New Jersey residents, including 375,000 kids, are food insecure.  Those children often rely on school breakfast and lunch programs to get their needed nutrition.

But what happens during the summer, when school is out? The answer, for too many kids, is that they go hungry — despite the fact that many educational enrichment programs are available to feed their curiosity and help them hone their academic skills.

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington) is sponsoring two bills that address this situation:

A-4906 requires public and nonpublic schools to notify students and parents of the availability and location of summer meal programs;

A-4908 directs the Department of Education to establish online applications for the National School Lunch Program and school breakfast programs.

“Breakfast and summer meal programs are essential components today to education,” said Lampitt. “The greater the participation in these meal programs, the closer we are to ensuring that no child will go hungry in New Jersey.”

The bills were released by the Assembly Women and Children Committee, which Lampitt chairs.

June 5, 2017

The number of juvenile arrests in the Garden State took a significant dip, dropping by 40 percent between 2010 and 2014 (the most recent data available), according to the Kids Count 2017 from the Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ). Commitments to juvenile detention facilities also continued to fall, from 423 in 2011 to 128 in 2014.

White youth accounted for more than half – 54 percent – of all juvenile arrests, followed by black youth at 45 percent in 2014. Still, racial disparities persist. Black youth were significantly overrepresented in these numbers since they made up just 15 percent of the state’s child population under 18 in that same year. In 2015, 67 percent of youth in county detention were black, compared to just 10 percent of white youth.

Kids Count is a national and state‐by‐state statistical effort to track the state of children in the United States, sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) is a statewide child research and action organization and the New Jersey Kids Count grantee.

June 2, 2017

Let’s hope this brings some solace to anyone pounding the pavement — or scrolling through the job boards — in search of work: a new report from WalletHub lists New Jersey as the fifth-best state for jobs.

The personal finances website compared 50 states across 24 key indicators of job-market strength, opportunity, and economic vitality. Data set ranged from employment growth to median annual income to average commute time.

New Jersey’s total score was 62.88; it ranked 19th for job market and fifth for economic environment. Pennsylvania was ranked 40th, with a total score of 47.78, and was ranked 26th for job market and 47th when it came to economic environment. New York State did slightly better: It finished 32nd overall, with a total score of 52.94, taking 32nd place for job market, and 34th for economic environment.

New Jersey had the fourth-highest median monthly salary; New York had the second. The Garden State, however, finished almost at the bottom of the heap for longest commute (48th); New York finished 50th.

June 1, 2017

According to a 2016 Release Outcome Report of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, State Parole Board, and Juvenile Justice Commission, 10,835 prisoners were released from New Jersey correctional facilities in 2011. Within three years, 52.7 percent were rearrested; 39.8 percent were reconvicted; and 31.3 percent were reincarcerated — as quoted in a recent report from NJ Reentry Corp., “Improving Upon Corrections in New Jersey to Reduce Recidivism and Promote Successful Reintegration.”

In other words, in just three years, over half of those released from prison were again involved in the justice system, and nearly a third were already back in prison or jail.

The cycle of recidivism creates exorbitant and unnecessary costs for the correctional system, healthcare systems, social-safety nets, and taxpayers. Each inmate costs the Department of Corrections $54,865 a year; as such, by 2014 the 31.3 percent of reincarcerated individuals released in 2011 were costing NJDOC nearly $200 million per year.

May 31, 2017

New Jersey has a gambling problem, a serious one. According to a new study from Rutgers-New Brunswick, nearly 70 percent of New Jerseyans gambled last year — either at casinos, racetracks, and other land-based venues (75 percent) or online (5 percent) or both (20 percent). The trouble cropped up when the study took a closer look at behavior patterns: the rate of gambling disorder in the total sample was slightly above 6 percent, about three times higher than the average rate in other population samples. And nearly 15 percent of those who participated reported gambling problems, which is also nearly three times higher than the average rate across other studies.

Men (roughly 73 percent) were significantly more likely than women (70 percent) to have gambled in the past year. About 71 percent of white respondents, compared with 69 percent of Hispanic and approximately 69 percent of black participants reported gambling in the past year.

The survey was conducted by the Center for Gambling Studies at the School of Social Work at Rutgers University. It included 3,634 adults reached by phone and online and is the first representative look at gambling behavior in New Jersey since the 1980s.

May 30, 2017

It’s been 30 years since New Jersey last adjusted cash assistance to its poorest families for inflation, according to a fact sheet released by the New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). The state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is currently $424 a month for a family of three, unchanged since 1987. To throw that number into sharp relief, New Jersey’s Department of Human Services indicates that a family of three needs $2,920 —almost 700 percent higher than the maximum TANF benefit. If the state had simply kept up with inflation, the benefit would be $932 a month.

New Jersey’s TANF assistance is the seventh-lowest of all states and the District of Columbia, below Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona.

May 26, 2017

Phil Murphy, the former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany, has a commanding lead over the rest of the field of Democrats striving to become New Jersey’s next governor. A poll released yesterday by the Stockton Polling Institute of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy shows Murphy at 34 percent. His nearest rivals are Jim Johnson, the former U.S. Treasury official, at 10 percent, and Assemblyman John Wisniewski at 9 percent. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, Bill Brennan, and Mark Zinna all poll at less than 5 percent.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno leads among the Republicans. She is at 37 percent, with her nearest rival Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli at 18 percent. Polling at less than 5 percent are Steven Rogers, Joseph Rullo, and Hirsh Singh, with 34 percent undecided or naming a write-in candidate.

May 25, 2017

This is National Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Week. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie issued a proclamation in appreciation of the EMS professionals who protect the health and save the lives of state residents. More than 30,000 certified emergency medical technicians staff licensed and volunteer ambulance services in the Garden State. An additional 1,600 certified paramedics staff Mobile Intensive Care Units and respond to the most critically ill or injured patients. Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett said, “New Jersey’s EMS professionals put their lives on the line every day to respond to more than one million calls and are available 24 hours a day.”

May 24, 2017

It’s not just the Jersey Shore whose economy depends on tourism. The industry is vital to the state of New Jersey as a whole — and last year it generated $42 billion in sales, according to a report by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. Those billions of dollars were engendered by 98 million visitors. Not surprising, Jersey Shore counties, Cape May ($6.3 billion) and Ocean ($4.7 billion) scored the largest takings. But tourism grew in 2016 by 5.7 percent in Passaic County and by 5.5 percent in Mercer County. Overall, the lodging sector accounted for 27.4 percent of the tourism sales, food and beverage for 24.9 percent, and retail for 18.6 percent.

The forecast is for 108 million tourists to visit the Garden State in 2020, when the industry is projected to generate $49 billion.

May 23, 2017

Some 37 percent of New Jersey’s children (747,000) lived in immigrant families or families with at least one foreign-born parent in 2015, according to the newly released 2017 New Jersey KidsCount report. A large majority of these children — 89 percent or 667,000 — are U.S. citizens. About 18 percent (131,000) live in families that do not earn 100 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s up 20 percent from 2011. KidsCount is published by Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

May 22, 2017

You might have noticed those signs by the roadside, especially if you’re idling in traffic: “Your Transportation Trust Funds at Work,” they read, a dead-on accurate assessment that describes the work that’s being done and the signs themselves, which are paid for out of the TTF supplemental appropriation.

No need to worry about the signs breaking the bank — or the fund. There are 52 signs all told, which cost $215 each, for a grand total of $11,200.

May 19, 2017

Most New Jerseyans are happy with their neighborhood and their access to the kinds of amenities that contribute to a healthy life: parks, playgrounds, places to walk and enjoy recreation; access to good food; and community services such as libraries. Overall, 81 percent of respondents to the New Jersey Health and Well-Being Poll rated their neighborhood as a good or excellent place to live.

However, when categorized by income level, it’s a different story. For people of high income, the satisfaction rating was 91 percent whereas for middle-income residents it was 78 percent, and just 57 percent for those of low income.

Sixty-one percent of black respondents rated their neighborhood as good or excellent; the figure for Hispanics was 62 percent. The results were markedly different for white respondents (88 percent) and Asians (91 percent).

May 18, 2017

By the numbers, New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation: But is that diversity reflected in the workplace and in people’s social lives? The answer, appropriately enough, is mixed, according to Taft Communications’ Second Annual State of Diversity Survey. Of those surveyed, 86 percent said they interact with someone of a different race or ethnicity every day at work. But the numbers dropped significantly outside of the workplace; 64 percent of those participating said their interactions went beyond their own group. That percentage dropped to 48 percent for respondents 60 or older.

Does diversity translate into sensitivity about others? Possibly. Asked how often they heard comments that could be considered offensive to minorities, 6 percent in 2016 said very often; in 2017 the response was 7 percent. But when nonwhites were asked the question, 2016’s 6 percent more than doubled (14 percent) in 2017.

In another significant increase, when asked whether they hear things at work that could be offensive to Jews, 15 percent of all respondents said they had heard such statements at least occasionally, compared with 9 percent last year.

May 17, 2017

Battered and beleaguered Newark just took another shot: New Jersey’s largest city was ranked rock bottom on a survey of the best and worst cities in which to start a career, from WalletHub, the personal finances website. Newark was listed 146th for professional opportunities (Cleveland was ranked 150th) and 148th for quality of life (Hialeah, FL took the bottom slot). The study analyzed data from the 150 most populated cities in the United States.

All cities in the survey were evaluated across 23 weighted metrics, including availability of entry-level jobs, monthly average starting salary, annual job-growth rate, median annual income, and average length of work week.

The only other Garden State city to make the list was Jersey City, which ranked 102nd.

According to the study, Salt Lake City and Orlando are the two top U.S. cities in which to start a career.

May 16, 2017

Discussions about the benefits of legalizing marijuana tend to turn on revenue benefits to the state — not hard to understand in economically challenged New Jersey. Some advocates also point to ending the pot prohibition as a tool of social justice. Both ideas are on the front burner again at New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR), thanks to the bill introduced yesterday by state Senator Nicholas Scutari that would let residents 21 and older use marijuana, which would be taxed and regulated by the state.

Revenue estimates from a homegrown grass industry tend to hover around $300 million, mostly the result of taxes and regulation.

But there’s another aspect to legalization that may not be as apparent as facts and figures.

“The war on marijuana is an instrument of racial discrimination, and the inequalities it perpetuates have only gotten worse over time,” said R. Todd Edwards, political action director of the NAACP NJ State Conference. “It’s time to end these racial disparities in arrests and imprisonment … Possession is one of the most common reasons that people in New Jersey are serving time in our jails, and it’s one of the most significant sources of racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”

Unfortunately, given that Gov. Chris Christie views marijuana as a “gateway drug,” the Scutari legislation or similar bills have no chance of being enacted before 2018.

The NJUMR is a coalition of civil rights groups, medical professionals, law enforcement, and other thought leaders.

May 15, 2017

There are currently 278 prisoners in New Jersey’s Juvenile Justice System. The vast majority are black (75 percent) and male: only 11 of those being held are female. Ages range from 14 to 19 and older, and they have been incarcerated for a range of offenses: crimes against persons, violation of parole, crimes against property, drugs, disturbing public order, and drugs. Many prisoners have been convicted of multiple crimes.

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