Everyone knows New Jersey’s roads and bridges are in bad shape. And while nearly $4 billion seems like a lot of money, experts say we need to double that in order to fix our infrastructure.
Of the $3.98 billion that’s been allocated, only $2.74 billion has gone to the state Department of Transportation, which will spend $744 million on local and state bridges; $209 million on road reconstruction; $289 million for highway congestion improvements; $133 million for multimodal investments, such as freight, rail and bicycling improvements; and $99 million for safety programs.
To see exactly where some of this money is being spent, the state DOT has provided an interactive map.
Another $1.228 billion has been budgeted for NJ Transit.
The state Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline fields an average of 15,000 calls per month.
Of those, about 5,000 to 6,000 are referred to Child Protective Services, formerly known as the state Division of Youth and Family Services. The remaining calls can either be handled on the phone or are considered family service requests, in which a family needs services but there are no allegations of abuse.
Who is making these calls? In the first half of 2013, a school has made the initial contact in 26 percent of the cases. The second-largest group of calls -- 14.5 percent -- comes through anonymously. The police made 13.3 percent of the contacts; health professionals made 11.9 percent; a parent called 8.2 percent; neighbors called 7.8 percent; agencies, 5.9 percent; and relatives, 4.3 percent.
New Jersey has 218 high-hazard dams, according to the Association of State Dam Officials.
The term high hazard in this case indicates a dam with significant consequences if it should fail. The total number of state-regulated dams is currently 1,682, with 336 considered “significant” hazard potential and 1,128 “low-hazard” potential.
The state has 13 full-time dam inspectors, each overseeing about 129 dams. High-hazard dams are supposed to be inspected annually. The total budget for dam inspections is $1.25 million.
For the past few years, New Jersey has had an informal program of removing what it considers obsolete dams -- dams that no longer serve a purpose and instead do harm to the ecology of rivers by elevating temperatures and obstructing access.
Tax amnesty. Gun buybacks. And now there is Fugitive Safe Surrender, a national program in which those with outstanding arrest warrants turn themselves in, hoping to gain favorable consideration from the law.
A recent event in Jersey City saw 4,587 individuals voluntarily turn themselves in, the third-highest number nationally since the program began in 2005. The program is open only to those with nonviolent criminal and civil warrants against them.
Many individuals were able to pay reduced fines and settle warrants, allowing them to live without fear of being pulled over and arrested. A total of about $40,000 in municipal and superior court income was collected during the November event.
According to the program, each person who surrenders saves local government an estimated $500, which is what it would cost to process and jail someone on a traffic warrant.
Of the 4,587 individuals who turned themselves in, 63 percent were wanted for traffic warrants; 33 percent were wanted for misdemeanor criminal warrants; 4 percent for child support or family court matters. Two individuals were taken into custody because the program is only open to those with no violent criminal history.
New Jersey’s weather is expected to be inhospitable to driving this weekend, so state authorities are urging caution when on the roads.
In 2012, there were eight fatal accidents and 10 deaths over the holiday weekend. Four of those killed were pedestrians.
Alcohol or drugs or both were a factor in six of those fatalities.
As a result, there will be an extra 100 state troopers on the roads. Colonel Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the state police, said troopers will be using a variety of marked and unmarked cars to look for texting drivers, unbelted occupants, speeders, and intoxicated drivers.
The New Jersey Department of Health has identified five objectives that it says indicate the state’s major public health concerns, which it hopes to make significant progress with by the year 2020.
First on that list is access to a personal doctor or healthcare provider. The 2020 target is 90 percent, but only 83.5 percent of New Jerseyans met that objective in 2011.
The rate at which New Jerseyans are meeting that target differs by race and ethnicity. White residents almost meet the target, with 88.8 percent; African Americans are at 81.8 percent, and Asians are at 84.1 percent. The biggest disparity is with Hispanic residents, who have a personal healthcare provider at a rate of only 65.4 percent.
The other four of the state's objectives are lowering the infant death rate; increasing childhood immunizations; cutting the death rate due to heart disease; and reducing obesity.
Ice fishing in New Jersey? It’s possible. Beginning today, the Fish and Wildlife division of the state Department of Environmental Protection will stock 5,000 14- to 18-inch rainbow trout in 23 lakes throughout the state. This comes right after the state completed its stocking of 20,000 two-year-old trout throughout its waterways.
The state is extending the fishing season through the winter months, now that it raises about 650,000 trout at the Pequest State Trout Hatchery each year. The winter stocking season brings the largest trout to the waters, since the trout have longer to grow before being released into the wild.
Although there is time to fish before ponds and lakes freeze, according to the DEP there are many anglers interested in ice fishing. The state recommends they make sure ice fishing is not prohibited at their intended location and read Freshwater Fishing Digest before embarking on their first foray onto winter ice.
According to Kaiser Family Foundation estimates, 400,000 New Jerseyans will be eligible to get tax credits when buying health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange.
Nationally, the foundation estimates that 17 million Americans will be eligible for a tax credit. Under the ACA, people with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for some sort of tax credit when buying insurance through an authorized exchange.
The foundation estimates the total market size for New Jerseyans who would want to purchase insurance through an exchange is 628,000. To make that estimate, the foundation excluded uninsured workers in a household that has employer-based insurance.
It may not seem like it next week, when you’re stuck on a major transportation artery with nowhere to go, but New Jersey has 39,213 miles of public roads. Of that, 431 miles are on an Interstate and 6,158 are considered principal roads
The vast majority of New Jersey roads are local: 28,480 miles.
New Jersey is the fifth-smallest state when it comes to geographic size but the most dense. So maybe it makes sense that it falls somewhere in the middle when it comes to number of miles of pavement. Alaska, for instance, the largest state, has only 16,675 road miles. Texas, however, has 312,911 miles of road -- almost double that of California. Delaware and Rhode Island, the two smallest states, have less than 7,000 miles of roadway.
New Jersey hospitals make a huge economic contribution to what is already a huge healthcare industry in this state. According to the New Jersey Hospital Association, the state’s hospitals spent $20.4 billion last year, $8 billion of which was in salaries.
Those salaries employed 144,000 people, including the full-time equivalents of 32,110 nurses, 4,306 therapists, 6,895 people in radiology departments, 2,637 pharmacists, 5,036 laboratory workers, and 11,136 workers in the dietary, housekeeping, and maintenance departments.
New Jersey hospitals also spend $882 million on pharmaceuticals, $267 million on utilities, $1.3 billion on contracted labor, and $139 million on laundry, housekeeping, and dietary supplies.
New Jerseyans have been recycling household waste since 1987, when the Legislature passed the Statewide Mandatory Source Separation and Recycling Act. In 2011, the rate of household recycling was the highest -- 40 percent -- since 1998.
Although the goal of the program is 50 percent, the average rate across the country is 35 percent. (Total recycling of all forms of New Jersey waste -- including constructive and vegetative -- is 60 percent.)
Those municipalities and counties that do a good job of recycling are rewarded with state recycling grants, this year totaling $18.6 million, by the state Department of Environmental Protection. These grants, $13.1 million of which went to towns and the rest to counties, are expected to help finance recycling and compliance programs.
The grant program is funded by a $3 per ton surcharge on trash disposed of at solid waste facilities across the state. In 2011, New Jersey generated more than 9.9 million tons of municipal solid waste from homes, schools, hospitals and businesses.
Some of the state’s largest municipalities got the largest grants: Newark ($228,379), Paterson ($222,858), Toms River ($179,204), and Edison ($167,267). But smaller towns such as Ridgewood, Randolph, and Monroe were cited for leadership. Ridgewood had a municipal solid-waste rate of 77 percent; Randolph, 68 percent; and Monroe, 59 percent. Other towns didn’t do as well in relation to their population. Here’s a complete list of municipalities that received grants.
A record sum of $122.8 million has been recovered by the state comptroller’s Medicaid Fraud Division this past fiscal year, according to its annual report released last week.
The sum, which was identified as improperly paid funds, was returned to both the state and federal budgets (each government entity pays 50 percent of Medicaid). Additionally, an estimated $392 million in other potential Medicaid expenses were avoided through proactive antifraud efforts, and 60 providers were found to be ineligible and forced out of the program.
Data mining and audits are used to detect indications of fraud and abuse, as well as duplicate, inconsistent, or excessive claim payments, according to the report. For instance, the office’s data-mining group referred 65 cases of anomalous claims behavior to the audit and investigations units in 2013.
These cases can often lead to the discovery of further abuses, such as the case of a nurse practitioner who billed for hours beyond the traditional workday on 300 occasions. Once an investigation was launched, it was determined that multiple unlicensed providers from the same office were improperly billing the Medicaid program.
Another way the office learns of potential abuse is through its hotline and website, in addition to other agencies. The comptroller’s office followed up on 558 tips in fiscal 2013. The Investigations Unit opened 294 cases and made 45 referrals to other agencies, including the state Attorney General’s office.
Is it that New Jerseyans are careful with money or is it the high rate of foreclosures in the Garden State? Lending Tree, the website that provides an online marketplace for mortgages, reported that New Jersey is first in the country when it comes to the size of the down payments put on homes -- 18.8 percent.
The average mortgage loan amount in New Jersey is $246,158, which is less than the average for a number of other states, including Hawaii, California, New York, and Massachusetts.
Nebraska was ranked lowest in terms of the percentage put toward a home mortgage -- 12.49 percent. Nationally, the rate was 15.73 percent.
On the one hand, low down payments indicate that lenders are less afraid of foreclosures and are willing to allow people to buy homes with less cash on hand. On the other, New Jerseyans are frequently cited in rankings as being smart about managing their money.
The federal government announced Wednesday that New Jersey is eligible for an additional $1.46 billion in Community Development Block Grants, bringing the total to nearly $3.3 billion.
However, this second round of funding comes with strings attached. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is demanding that the state provide for additional transparency in terms of how it determines grant recipients, both by holding at least one public hearing and a 30-day public comment period, as well as with timely information regarding the Action Plan on a comprehensive website.
Adam Gordon, staff attorney for the Fair Share Housing Center, which recently sued the Christie administration in order to get more information on how the first round of CDBG grants is being spent, said the new requirements are a response to complaints regarding lack of transparency and public participation in the decisions.
Of the 307,000 veteran households in New Jersey, 36 percent have a housing-cost burden, meaning that they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. If that weren't bad enough, 15 percent of New Jersey veterans are classified as “severely cost burdened” because their housing costs make up more than 50 percent of their income. This is according to a new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition
The problem is particularly acute for low-income veteran families headed by someone who is disabled or by racial minorities or by women. In the Garden State, 17 percent of veteran households are headed by minorities and four percent by women, according to the report.
The latest Rutgers-Eagleton poll said that Gov. Chris Christie’s tough-talking behavior helps get things done, by a margin of 58 percent to 30 percent. But at the same time, voters say this behavior won’t go over well with the rest of the country.
When asked whether Christie’s tough-guy attitude will go over well on a national stage, voters who overwhelmingly support his style said national voters will not like it, 46 percent to 36 percent. However, Republicans and Christie supporters did think that the tough-guy attitude was an asset for Christie, while Independents and Democrats were against it.
The poll also showed that New Jerseyans overwhelmingly expect Christie to run for president – 59 percent to 19 percent -- and 77 percent said it made little or no difference whether they supported him for governor. Still, Democrats said Christie was more focused on his run for president than on what was best for the state, while Independents and Republicans rejected that notion.
The U.S. Census Bureau typically judges poverty based on income and household size, using the same thresholds across the country. For the third year in a row, it has released what it is calling “supplemental poverty measures,” which take into account government benefits that are available in a specific geographic area, as well as the cost of living.
Doing so changes New Jersey’s official poverty rate of 10.7 percent to 15.5 percent. The national poverty rate is 15.1 (without supplemental measures) to 16.1 percent (with supplemental measures).
The supplemental measures reflect both a decrease in the poverty rate -- due to available government subsidies such as the national school lunch program, unemployment insurance, housing subsidies, social security, and other government programs -- as well as the local cost of living. It seems New Jersey’s high cost of living outweighs any governmental benefits.
That’s not the case for all states: 28 states actually improved their poverty rates due to government and other programs. These include some very poor states, such as Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana, as well as relatively wealthy states like Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.
We all know that single-parent families are increasingly common, but in New Jersey a full 60 percent of African-American children live in a single-parent home, according to the 2011 American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.
For Latino children, the rate is 47 percent; for white children, 18 percent; and for Asian children, 11 percent. The total is 30.5 percent.
In general, the rate is higher nationally, at 35 percent. More African-Americans came from single-parent homes (67 percent), as well as white children (26 percent), Asians (16 percent) and Native Americans (54 percent). Nationally, however, Latinos had fewer single-parent homes (41 percent.)
Lines at the polls were long on Tuesday, but it wasn’t necessarily due to turnout -- which came in at 38 percent. (With 99 percent of precincts reporting, 2.095 million voters were tallied. Total registered voters: 5.5 million.) A turnout of 45 percent is considered low.
If it wasn't turnout, why the delay? The ballots in most towns were very long, and it appeared that some people carefully read them. Consider that the ballots included candidates for governor, state Senate, Assembly, and two statewide ballot issues. Most towns also had county elections (freeholder, sheriff), as well as municipal elections.
And then there were the 501 towns that also had school board elections. There were 1,853 candidates for 1,501 seats. Three towns also put the school budgets on the ballot. And four had school referendums.
For many voters, it meant a long wait.
The National Safety Council reported 212 unintentional deaths by poisoning in 2009, the most recent year with published statistics, which actually seems pretty low for a state with the population of New Jersey. The total number of poisoning deaths nationally was 31,758.
The modest number of deaths could be due to the success of the NJ Poison Information and Education System hotline -- 800-222-1222 -- which fields more than 100,000 calls from those with questions regarding possible poisonings. The center also deals with drug information. Specialists in poison information, either physicians, registered nurses, or pharmacists, handle all calls. About half of the specialists on the line are fluent in Spanish, and a contract with AT&T Language Line enables the specialists to respond in more than 100 languages. The center operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Gov. Chris Christie has jumped 10 points in the latest Rutgers Eagleton poll over his Democratic opponent State Sen. Barbara Buono. According to the poll, issued early today, New Jerseyans favor the governor 66 percent to 30 percent, leading the director of the poll, David Redlawsk, to express the thought that Christie may have coattails if Democratic turnout is light. Redlawsk said that the small gains Buono made in the last poll have now been reversed.
The same poll, however, did show likely voters preferring to keep Democrats in control of the state Legislature 47 percent to 40 percent.
The rate at which young New Jersey adults -- those between the ages of 18 and 24 -- are not working, not in school and have no degree beyond high school is growing, according to the 2013 New Jersey Kids Count, an annual report of the Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
In 2011, it was
15 percent or approximately 113,000. That’s an increase of 25 percent since 2008 and whether it was due to a poor economy or other reasons is unclear.
The rate at which teens between the ages of 16 and 19 are idle -- meaning they are not going to school and not working -- has remained the same since 2008, at 7 percent.
A National Sleep Foundation found that 60 percent of drivers admit to having driven while drowsy at least once, and 37 percent have actually fallen asleep at the wheel.
The American Automobile Association Foundation says
12.5 percent of fatal crashes involve drowsy drivers.
In New Jersey, drivers are subject to serious penalties even if they avoid an accident. New Jersey’s “Maggie’s Law” prohibits a motorist without sleep for more than 24 hours to drive, classifying them as a reckless driver who could face vehicular homicide charges, up to 10 years in prison, and a $100,000 fine.
If you are tired, pull over, say the experts.
While broad polls of New Jersey residents now say most families have fully recovered from the superstorm, a tracking panel of New Jersey residents who were displaced by Sandy for at least one month this year tells a very different story. When surveyed by Monmouth University Polling Institute, only 10 percent of the panel said they were fully recovered.
The panel included a range of New Jerseyans -- 35 percent had a family income of over $100,000 -- although 90 percent owned their homes and lived in Monmouth and Ocean counties. The majority -- 53 percent -- are still displaced from their homes or do not plan to move back.
Most of the respondents said it would take another year or more to recover from the storm. Twenty-eight percent said one year; 18 percent, another two or three years; 13 percent, more than three years; and 16 percent said never.
When asked whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with New Jersey’s Sandy recovery efforts, 30 percent said somewhat dissatisfied and 31 percent said very dissatisfied. Only 7 percent said they were very satisfied. Those responses tracked fairly closely no matter the respondent's income, although those back in their homes tended to have a slightly more optimistic outlook.
The New Jersey deer population continues to grow, overrunning urban towns as well remote areas. No wonder the state has become an attractive place for deer hunting, since there were 49,402 deer killed by hunters in 2012-2013.
Breeding season for deers is just about now and runs through mid-December -- making it both dangerous for drivers and attractive for hunters. That’s because deer are on the move, looking for mates. The problem is particularly acute at dawn and dusk. State officials warn that drivers should slow down, stay alert, and avoid tailgating in order to stay safe.
Fall bow-hunters harvested the greatest number of deer last year, 15,409, followed by shotgun hunters with 10,267 deer bagged.
Cranberries, peaches, blueberries -- yes, New Jersey is known to be a big producer of those crops. But bell peppers? It turns out that the Garden State is third nationally when it comes to the production of those green, red, and yellow peppers, after California and Florida, two states with massive agricultural fields.
In 2010, New Jersey harvested 3,300 acres of bell peppers for a total of $33,800.
New Jersey students carry more than the national average when it comes to student loan debt, according to the most recent NJPIRG Law & Policy Center report, outlining the problems students face when obtaining loans for college. The national average is $24,802 while New Jersey’s average is $25,700.
NJPIRG found that in the state – and nationally – the lender with the most complaints was Sallie Mae, which dominates the national market with a 50 percent share. Second to Sallie Mae in New Jersey was the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. New Jersey had one of the highest rates of complaints in the nation, at more than 15 complaints per 100,000 student borrowers. In general, the Northeast saw the most complaints.
Gov. Chris Christie promised that at least 60 percent of the $10,000 resettlement grants that the state will award Sandy victims would go to low and moderate income families. But according to data released by the Fair Share Housing Center, which it received from the state, only 37 percent of these grants have gone to lower-income families.
A majority of these grants have gone to wealthier families and individuals. Low and moderate income, according to the Fair Share Housing Center, refers to $50,000 to $70,000 for a family of four.
The Fair Share Housing Center is suing the Christie administration for lack of transparency regarding how it has awarded federal disaster relief grants after Hurricane Sandy. In response, the administration turned over these documents.
According to the documents, only 4,051 $10,000 checks have been distributed to low- and moderate-income households, yet 6,914 higher-income households received the checks. The rate varies by county. In the worst-hit counties, the rate for checks to be distributed to low and moderate income was less than it was statewide. For instance, in Hudson County, only 27 percent of the checks went to low- and moderate-income families, while 73 percent went to those with higher incomes. In Monmouth County, the rate was 33 percent versus 67 percent. In Ocean, it was 36 percent versus 64 percent.
It’s “Teen Driver Safety Week,” and the state is urging parents to carefully monitor their teen drivers. There were 113,000 motor vehicle injuries to drivers 20 years and younger between 2008 and 2012. During the same period, there were 216 motor vehicle fatalities to those between the ages of 17 and 20.
Among the recommendations for parents is to take a safety class called "Share the Keys," 90 minutes of training in community settings. Parents are counseled to control the keys: Teens that had to ask for permission to drive were half as likely to be involved in crashes as those with primary access.
The program also notes that 40 percent of crashes occur after 9 p.m. and teens with just one passenger have nearly twice the risk of a fatal crash than those who drive alone. It also stresses that teens are at greatest risk in the first one to two years of driving, so parents should fit in at least one hour of practice a week with their children in order to increase their experience