All across New Jersey kids will be heading back to school next month, and the state Department of Health wants to make sure they have everything they need: pens and pencils, notebooks, backpacks — and — up-to-date vaccinations.
Childhood vaccines protect against 14 serious diseases, such as diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, measles, mumps, rubella, Hib, hepatitis B, and pneumococcal disease. They also help prevent diseases from being spread in the classroom and childcare centers. What’s more, some childhood vaccinations wear off over time, so booster shots will be needed to fully protect children from tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, and other serious diseases.
Information about vaccines, inoculation schedules for all age groups, and the availability of free vaccinations for poor children can be found on the CDC website.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month.
Breastfeeding numbers continue to rise in the Garden State. According to the 2017 Breastfeeding Report Card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was a 15.6 percent increase — over the previous year — among mothers still breastfeeding at 12 months. The numbers rose 13.8 percent among mothers exclusively breastfeeding at three months, and they were up 12.4 percent among mothers still breastfeeding at 6 months.
August is National Breastfeeding Month, and the New Jersey Department of Health is celebrating the continued improvement in breastfeeding numbers in the state. “The best food for a baby’s first year of life is breast milk,” said Health Commissioner Cathleen D. Bennett. “For infants, breastfeeding helps prevent hunger, increases nourishment and protects against obesity. For mothers, breastfeeding can be a satisfying and empowering experience, which should be supported by employers, the healthcare system, and the community,” Bennett said. Breastfeeding leads to a lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes in mothers, as well as a lower risk of certain types of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
You can find information and resources on breastfeeding here.
In 2013, New Jersey set up the Blue Acres Program to buy — at pre-storm value — homes that had been damaged by Superstorm Sandy. The program, which is run by the Department of Environmental Protection, was later expanded to include homes in places that may not have been directly impacted by Sandy but are prone to repetitive flooding.
Yesterday, the DEP Commissioner Bob Martin announced a milestone for Blue Acres — its 600th buyout. The property, bought for $390,000, is on Columbia Street in New Milford, Bergen County, close to the Hackensack River. Eighteen other New Milford homes have been bought out under the program.
After Blue Acres buys a house, it’s demolished and the land permanently preserved as open space for recreation and/or conservation. The goal is to buy clusters of homes to provide areas that will absorb flood waters.
Blue Acres has bought out houses in 14 municipalities: Sayreville, South River, Woodbridge, Old Bridge and East Brunswick in Middlesex County; Manville in Somerset County; Pompton Lakes in Passaic County; Newark in Essex County; Rahway and Linden in Union County; Lawrence and Downe in Cumberland County; New Milford in Bergen County; and Ocean in Monmouth County.
Never one to do things by halves, New Jersey has both a state vegetable and a state fruit, the tomato and the blueberry. Actually, to the literalists out there it has two state fruits, since the tomato, as all aggies know, is also a fruit — the edible fruit of Solanum lycopersicum, which belongs to the nightshade family, Solanaceae, as Wikipedia so elegantly puts it. The species originated in Central and South America.
Blueberries were first cultivated in Whitesbog, according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. The crop earned the state a $79.5 million production value in 2014, the last year for which data is available.
That makes the humble blueberry a significant cash crop. Tomatoes (the other state fruit, remember?) earned $52.2 million in 2015. The Garden State ranks No. 7 in the nation for tomato production.
In 2003, fourth graders at Veteran's Memorial Elementary School in Brick campaigned (successfully) to make the blueberry the official state fruit.
That begs the obvious question, how did a fruit wind up the state vegetable? In 2005, members of the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved a measure designating the Jersey tomato as the official state vegetable. The rest, as they say, is history.
If you’ve ever been stuck in traffic in a car that seems to be seizing in the heat, you’ll probably empathize with those whose vehicles actually have gone on fire. Such was the case for the owners of 2,476 passenger vehicles in New Jersey in 2015, accounting for the vast majority (77 percent) of vehicle fires in the state that year. The remainder were in road freight or transport vehicles (10 percent), mobile property (9 percent), off-road vehicles or heavy equipment (3 percent), and water vehicles (1 percent). In the passenger-vehicle fires, the principal cause was “unintentional” (905 instances), followed by undetermined causes and failure of equipment or heat source (424). Forty passenger-vehicle fires were “intentional.” The data comes from “Fire in New Jersey 2015,” a statistical analysis of fire and emergency incidents in the Garden State, a report produced by the Division of Fire Safety in the state Department of Community Affairs.
Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced today that New Jersey, along with 31 other states and the District of Columbia, has settled with Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. concerning a data breach that compromised the personal information of more than a million consumers.
The 2012 data breach resulted in the loss of Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, credit-scoring information, and other personal data belonging to 1.27 million consumers.
The settlement calls on Nationwide to make a total payment of $5.5 million to the participating states.
The Garden State is stuck in the middle (24) among the 50 states and the District of Columbia when it comes to the quality of its healthcare. That’s where WalletHub, the personal finances website, ranked New Jersey after analyzing a range of healthcare issues nationwide, including cost, insurance, cancer rates, Medicare acceptance, infant mortality, physicians per capita, and hospital beds per capita.
New Jersey didn’t figure among the top five or bottom five in any category. It ranked 12th for outcomes, 29th for cost, and 39th for access. Making up the top five in the overall rankings were Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia. The bottom five were North Carolina, Arkansas, Alaska, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
Noting that the cost and quality of healthcare can vary widely from state to state, WalletHub pointed out that the average American now spends “nearly $10,000 per year on personal health care,” a figure that is predicted to go in only one direction over time — upward.
This is National Farmers Market Week, and as part of it, New Jersey’s Health Commissioner Cathleen D. Bennett and Agriculture Secretary Douglas H. Fisher are promoting two programs that help farmers to sell their produce while also giving needy families and seniors access to healthy food. Those are the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Senior Farmers Market nutrition programs, which allow eligible participants to trade farmers market nutrition checks for fresh fruits and vegetables.
The problem, Bennett said, is that last year “only 66 percent of WIC Farmers Market vouchers were redeemed” in New Jersey. “We must do better,” she said, noting that the 2016 redemption rate means that “$301,843 worth of fresh produce that could have provided nutritious meals for needy children and families was returned to the federal government.”
New Jersey gets mixed reviews in the most recent edition of “How Do You Measure Up: A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality published annually by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).
The Garden State scores a green (following best practices) in four of nine categories: cigarette tax rates, smoke-free laws, increased access to Medicaid, and funding for breast and cervical cancer early detection programs. It earns a yellow (“moderate movement toward benchmark”) in one category: access to palliative care. It’s in the red for three: Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation services, restrictions on use of indoor tanning devices, and pain policy. And it’s in the black for one: funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, because New Jersey has allocated less than 1 percent of CDC recommendations.
“This 15th edition of the report shows just how far we’ve come in the last decade and a half passing policies proven to reduce suffering and death from cancer. But now is certainly not the time to rest on our laurels,” said Brian Shott, ACS CAN New Jersey government relations director.
“This year alone in New Jersey almost 52,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer," he continued. "We owe it to them and everyone at risk of developing the disease, to do what we know works to prevent cancer and improve access to screenings and treatment.”
The New Jersey Poison Center at Rutgers Medical School, has issued a warning about the dangers of eating wild mushrooms, after 15 cases of poisoning have been reported during the past 10 days. “Picking and eating wild mushrooms can be a dangerous game,” Dr. Diane Calello, medical director of the center, said. “Even those who think they can identify a toxic mushroom can be fooled,” Calello added.
Several of the reported cases of poisoning resulted in hospitalizations with potentially life-threatening consequences, the center reported. Symptoms of poisoning can include intense vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration.
The center warned that online mushroom identification sites can be falsely reassuring. People in doubt can call the NJ Poison Center (1-800-222-1222), which will arrange for an expert to identify the mushroom and give advice depending on the identification. It helps, the center noted, if people take a digital photograph of the mushroom(s) next to an object such as a coin or ruler, to give a sense of scale.
The center warned that “time is of the essence... If someone is unconscious, not breathing, seizing, difficult to wake up, etc., call 911.”
Law enforcement officials collected close to 5,000 deadly weapons last weekend in a gun buyback in Newark, Camden, and Trenton. That cache represents more weapons than ever were collected across the state in a single year through arrests and seizures.
“…the gun numbers tell only part of the story,” said Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino. “From what I observed – and I spent time at all three locations – there was a very positive conversation around each of these buyback events. Communities were working together.”
The weapons collected included 1,973 handguns, 1,142 shotguns, 1,025 rifles, and 129 assault weapons. People were paid $100 for turning in a rifle or shotgun, $120 for a handgun or revolver, and $200 for an assault weapon, up to a maximum of $600 per person. The buybacks took place at the Antioch Baptist Church in Camden, the Friendship Baptist Church in Trenton, and the Greater Abyssinian Baptist Church in Newark. Forfeiture monies ($481,620) seized by law enforcement from criminals, street gangs, drug-dealers, and other offenders funded the buybacks.
The money raised this year by county organizations for the November elections is $3.6 million, which is 35 percent higher than in 2013, the last time the governor and the entire Legislature were up for re-election. Despite the rise, the sum is still 55 percent lower than the record of $7.9 million set in 2003.
Jeff Brindle, executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), said a key reason for the jump this year is a one-time influx of funds from the Democratic Governors Association aimed at giving Democratic county organizations a boost in a gubernatorial year. The DGA has pumped $415,000 into 14 county parties this year; ten of its donations were the maximum $37,000 that counties can accept in a year. The Republican Governors Association has not donated so far this year.
The county party with the most cash on hand is Passaic (D), with $523,947. Bergen, Camden, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, and Union counties also had cash on hand of more than $100,000.
More than three-quarters of New Jerseyans rate their own town or city as a good (40 percent) or excellent (37 percent) place to live, according to the Monmouth University Polling Institute’s latest Garden State Quality of Life Index. The overall rating (77 percent) is a numerical high for that question going back through 40 years of statewide polls.
However, while residents rate their local communities as good or great places to live, they are not as upbeat about the state as a whole. The poll found that six in 10 New Jerseyans say the state is an excellent (15 percent) or good (44 percent) place to live. But 28 percent believe it is only fair and 13 percent rate it as a poor place to call home. The resultant overall 59-percent positive rating dips below last year’s mark (62 percent). Indeed, this is only the fourth time the overall positive number has gone below 60 percent in state opinion polls going back to 1980.
“New Jerseyans aren’t overly optimistic about the state as whole, so they seem to be turning to their local communities for reasons to value the Garden State as their home,” said Patrick Murray, director of the polling institute. “Anchoring themselves to their neighborhoods may help stem the tide of folks currently leaving the state, but I’m not sure this is sustainable in the long term,” he said.
Hot weather does not mean more work for firefighters, at least according to “Fire in New Jersey 2015,” issued by the Division of Fire Safety. Of the 27,409 fires in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, 3,790 occurred in May and 3008 in April, while the fewest fires (1,653) occurred in December.
The report includes stats on all types of fires. Structural fires were by far the most common (15,514), followed by natural vegetation — or wildland — fires (5,175) and vehicle fires (3,221). There were only 35 cultivated crop fires.
Sometimes it feels as if New Jersey will never get clear of the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Sandy, but a recent announcement by U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker should help put the superstorm that much further behind us. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded $15,667,201.79 to reimburse the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYJ) for 90 percent of the cost to repair key facilities and equipment damaged by the extreme storm.
New Jersey ranks as the second most affordable state for families looking for a nanny to take care of their children and the fifth most affordable state for those looking to place their children in a daycare center. This is according to the “Cost of Care Survey 2017” by Care.com, the world’s largest online marketplace for finding and managing family care.
The cost of taking care of children has a profound effect on family life and finances. Care.com found that 52 percent of parents believe they spend too much on childcare and 40 percent say the cost issue has caused tension in their relationship. It’s hardly surprising, then, that almost half of parents (47 percent) wish the United States subsidized childcare costs as some other countries do.
The survey also found that 32 percent of families spend 20 percent or more of their income on childcare. It found that the cost of care in centers ranged from $6,605 to $20,209 a year. The annual cost of a nanny — caring for one child — ranged from $27,019 to $32,677.
Unlike other parts of the country, there is not a job shortage in Newark, according to “Bridging the Two Americas: Employment and Economic Opportunity in Newark and Beyond.” But of Newark’s approximately 136,979 jobs, only 18 percent are held by local residents. And those jobs tend to be low paying or part time with less than desirable working conditions.
Among all employed Newark residents, 28 percent hold jobs paying less than $15,000 annually (these are part-time positions); 41 percent earn between $15,000 and $40,000 per year; but only 31 percent earn more than $40,000 annually. This means that 69 percent of Newark residents earn less than $40,000, and that many of them are working and still living in poverty.
The report was prepared by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.
We have no word on whether Gov. Chris Christie’s arm or wrist were tired this past Friday July 21, but they definitely got a good workout: The state’s chief executive signed 53 bills into law.
Included in the stack was legislation that raised to 21 the legal age to buy tobacco products in the state.
“My mother died from the effects of smoking, and no one should lose their life due to any addictive substance,” the governor commented.
He also signed four bills that help continue the fight against the opioid epidemic that is sweeping the state.
One measure requires the Department of Human Services to develop an application for its website that displays daily information about the number of open beds available in facilities for people in need of mental health or substance-use disorder treatment. One helps inform parents of student athletes and cheerleaders about the use and misuse of prescription opioids. One allows hospice programs to accept unused prescription medicines from hospice patients for safe disposal. And one mandates the use of “current-day, sensitive terminology” when referring to people with substance-use disorders or certain disabilities.
It wasn’t all smiles at the governor’s desk, however. He also vetoed 14 bills.
According to the Home Care & Hospice Association, the organization — which numbers some 3,000 volunteers — tends to 40,000 terminally ill New Jerseyans annually. And those volunteers have a broad range of training options open to them, from bereavement to pet therapy to Hindu and Buddhist approaches to the end of life, said Chrissy Buteas, president and CEO
of the association.
“The volunteer in hospice is so important,” Buteas said, “that hospice is the only Medicare benefit which requires use of volunteers.”
Hospice is provided wherever the patient lives — in private homes, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, hospice houses, hospitals, and elsewhere. Volunteers support caregiving in many ways, Buteas noted, including running errands for families, doing simple chores around the house, providing companionship for patients, and giving families a break from their caregiving. Some volunteers assist in the hospice office as well, particularly with clerical matters and patient records.
At a recent full-day training conference, volunteers could choose from a wide range of workshops. Among the topics covered were “Dementia: What It Is and What It Is Not,” “Good Grief,” “Heartfulness Meditation,” “Laughter in the Hospice Setting – Seriously,” “Memoir Writing,” “Music Therapy as a Healing Modality,” “Tell Me Your Story – the Importance of Narrative Work in Hospice Care,” “Guilt: The Gift That Keeps on Giving,” “How Do Therapy Dogs Help in Hospice Care?,” “Sun in the Heart: New Pages from a Hospice Volunteer’s Notebook,” “Volunteering at the 11th Hour,” “Working with the Minimally Responsive or Non-Communicative Patient,” “Creating Moments of Joy in Moderate and Late Stage Alzheimer’s Disease,” “Poetry & the Practice of Listening,” and “Staying Whole in the Midst of Brokenness.”
Follow this link to learn more about volunteering for hospice.
With 10,600 jobs added in June, New Jersey’s unemployment rate stayed at 4.1 percent; that’s below the national rate of 4.4 percent. Most of the jobs (10,200) were added in the private sector. Unfortunately, the leisure and hospitality industry — so vital to the state’s economy — lost 1,500 jobs in June. Education and health services also saw a loss of jobs (-400).
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary estimates, private-sector employers have added 51,900 jobs over the past year. The total number of private-sector jobs added in New Jersey since the Great Recession’s low point in February 2010 is 314,000.
The June job gains came in a number of sectors: construction (+4,200), other services (+2,200), trade, transportation and utilities (+1,900), professional and business services (+1,200), manufacturing (+1,000), financial activities (+1,000), and information (+600). Public-sector employment went up by 400.
The cost of tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates at Rutgers University will increase by 1.85 percent for the 2017-2018 academic year. That’s below the university’s 2.1 percent average tuition and mandatory fee increases of the last three years.
“Public colleges and universities across the country are facing significant financial challenges,” Rutgers university president Robert Barchi said, while emphasizing that Rutgers was managing to keep increases to a minimum.
The 1.85 percent increase translates into a bill of $14,638 in combined tuition and mandatory student fees for a typical in-state, full-time Arts and Sciences undergraduate at the New Brunswick campus. If that student lives on campus, total charges — including tuition, fees, room and board — will be $27,090, up 1.7 percent from last year. Announcing the increase yesterday, Rutgers pointed out that while it applies to most undergraduates, “in many cases, individual student costs are reduced by federal, state or institutional financial aid.”
Rutgers has about 69,000 students and 22,500 faculty and staff at campuses and facilities around New Jersey.
The summer of hell and the ongoing work at New York Penn Station may have NJ Transit officials and commuters concerned, but the agency is also looking down the track to fiscal 2018, passing a $2.21 billion operating budget.
Almost half of the revenue in the fiscal 2018 operating budget comes from passenger revenue ($1.014 billion), supported by a comparable amount from state and federal program reimbursements ($947.7 million), with the balance from a combination of commercial revenues ($115.2 million) and state operating assistance ($140.9 million).
Approximately 61 percent of the operating budget is dedicated to labor and fringe-benefits costs. Other significant expenses include materials and supplies and purchased transportation, which equal 25 percent of the operating budget.
The agency also passed a $1.367 billion capital program for fiscal 2018.
NJT says it remains committed to deploying positive train control.
It continues to invest in railroad bridge rehabilitation, track replacement, signal upgrades, repairs to overhead power lines and electric substations, as well as investments into the state-of-good-repair of the Northeast Corridor (NEC), the agency’s most utilized line.
The overall voter turnout rate in the November 2016 elections was 6.3 percent lower among people with disabilities (55.9 percent) compared with those without disabilities (62.2 percent). But people with disabilities who are employed turned out at virtually the same rate as people without disabilities who are employed (64.7 percent to 63.6 percent). The “disability gap” is highlighted in a report released yesterday by the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.
Polling place accessibility remains a persistent issue affecting turnout. An earlier study by Professor Lisa Schur, one of the authors of the new report, found that 30 percent of people with disabilities had problems voting at polling places in 2012, compared to 8 percent of people without disabilities.
Advocates of greater accessibility are taking their case directly to the politicians: This is National Disability Voter Registration Week and it’s being marked at an event in front of the State House in Trenton today. Along with Senate President Steve Sweeney, speakers will include a co-author of the Rutgers report, Distinguished Professor Douglas Kruse, who has said that, “Standard turnout predictors such as education and income do not fully account for the disability gap. It’s also due to many people with disabilities being socially isolated and perceiving that public officials are less responsive to their needs."
The H-1B visa immigration program has been controversial since it is only open to highly skilled foreign workers, but it benefits about 85,000 people each year. President Donald Trump has ordered the program under review, but so far no changes have been announced.
New Jersey has been a major sponsor of H-1B visas. In 2013, 35,982 workers were awarded these visas to live in the Garden State. Most commonly, these immigrants work in the sciences, technology, and engineering industry, with more than half being of Indian descent.
Forget Georgia. New Jersey is one of the largest growers of peaches in the country, and this year’s crop is expected to be the biggest in years. The New Jersey Peach Promotion Council is estimating it will be between 55 million and 66 million peaches on 5,500 acres.
For a point of comparison, in 2015 New Jersey farmers grew 42.2 million pounds of peaches on 4,700 acres. This crop brought in $27.6 million.
The New Jersey season is just beginning to get into full swing, and will run through September. New Jersey grows multiple variety of peaches, each with different dates for ripeness.
According to the latest Monmouth University poll, fully half (50 percent) of the registered voters who participated point to property taxes as the top problem in the Garden State. What makes this finding ironic rather than simply obvious (we do pay the highest property taxes in the country) is that the top-line takeaway from the poll is that gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy has opened up a daunting 27-point lead over his opponent, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. What’s ironic about that? Property taxes are Guadagno’s signature issue. Either her message isn’t getting through or the voters don’t like the messenger. Either way, as the governor’s race shifts into high gear, Guadagno has her work cut out for her.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the Newark Rebellion, four days of civil disturbance that lasted from July 12 to July 17, 1967 and left 26 dead and 727 injured — and saw the city’s business district engulfed in flames fueled by arson.
The rebellion was sparked off after two white police officers beat a black cabdriver; a rumor spread that he had been killed while in police custody. (This was not true.)
The Newark riots, as they were then known, led to 1,500 arrests. Property damage exceeded $10 million.
Of the 26 killed, according to Wikipedia, 24 were civilians. A police officer and a firefighter also lost their lives. Among the injured were 567 civilians, 67 police officers, 55 firefighters, and 38 military personnel.
A 50th Anniversary Memorial March will be held this afternoon at 4:30, meeting at the Newark Rebellion Memorial, on the crossroads of Springfield Avenue, 15th Avenue, and Irvine Turner Boulevard.
Some — or many — New Jersey legislators might have enjoyed the widespread excoriation of Gov. Chris Christie for parking himself on a beach that was closed to the public during the recent government shutdown. The same lawmakers might be disconcerted to learn that 54 percent of New Jerseyans think the Legislature and Christie are equally to blame for the shutdown. A poll by the Monmouth University Polling Institute also found that 28 percent put the blame solely on Christie, while 14 percent blame the Legislature alone.
Only 15 percent of New Jersey adults approve of the job Christie is doing as governor, according to the poll. On the one hand, the outgoing governor might take some solace from that number. After all, “Beachgate” did not worsen it. "It really is difficult to drive approval ratings into the single digits barring something like a criminal conviction,” said Patrick Murray, director of the polling institute.
On the other hand, a majority of Garden State residents (55 percent) feel the state is worse off because of Christie's time as governor. The equivalent number a year ago was 41 percent.
The U.S. DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration has published the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Hudson Tunnel Project, aka the Gateway Tunnel, putting the price tag between $11.7 billion to $12.98 billion. The DEIS indicates that the plan includes building two new rail tubes in a single tunnel beneath the Hudson River that can maintain the existing level of train service while the North River Tunnel tubes are taken out of service one at a time for rehabilitation. Once the North River Tunnel restoration is complete, both old and new tunnels will be in service, providing redundancy and increased flexibility.
Three public hearings on the draft statement are scheduled on August 1, August 3, and August 10.