-A recount of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States-
Following the mass he led on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Pope Francis amazed the world with his actions. He held true to the values that caught the world’s eye while he was known as an Argentinian Cardinal, and he led a crowd of more than 10,000 people over the walkway of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and into Camden City.
Pope Francis held another sermon from the steps of Camden’s City Hall, and he began by blessing the nameless who remain unseen in the public eye. He blessed the hungry, the addicted, the homeless, the prostitutes, and the violent. He spoke in what sounded to be a vengeful voice, loud enough to be heard by God in the heavens.
“There is no rationale which appropriately justifies this city’s existence in the Earth’s wealthiest nation!”, the Pope cried. “While the children remain hungry, and the wealthy eat first, we as a people will never progress!”.
Then, Pope Francis pointed towards Philadelphia, and asked the mass of people, “How can it be that one river has determined who will live in luxury, and who will die in poverty? As people of God, it is our mission to guide the right side of this river into stable life! It can no longer be our first action to give to the wealthy before our children are safe.”
As local law makers of New Jersey became aware of the Pope’s unexpected visit to Camden, several representatives assembled to the side of City Hall’s steps in order to show their presence.
Following the arrival of New Jersey’s Governor, who joined municipal and state lawmakers, the Pope pointed directly towards the assembly of power. “No longer can the world survive a governance that omits the voices of those who suffer! No longer should the wealthy live in free houses while the poor do not have houses at all!”. Tears could then be seen on the faces of so many in the crowd, and even on the face of Camden’s mayor.
Many speculated afterwards that Pope Francis was referring to more than $1 Billion dollars in tax credits given to already profiting corporations in return for their relocation to Camden City.
After the seemingly direct message to New Jersey’s law makers, the Pope moved forward and kissed the face of a homeless teenager, and proceeded to walk to the waterfront facing Philadelphia.
Pope Francis paused at the construction site of what will become the new home of the Philadelphia 76’ers practice facility, and he fell to his knees for prayer. Upon doing so, a white pigeon was noticed to the right hand of the Pope. Before leaving the site, the Pope removed his shoes, leaving him barefoot, and proceeded to walk back over the bridge, and then he was transported to the airport in order to leave the country.
Considering everything that Pope Francis has spoken for, and everything that he stands for in the eyes of Catholics across the world, his visit to Camden should have been expected, considering the city’s rate of impoverishment, and proximity to Philadelphia.
On November 5th, 2013, New Jersey voters approved the New Jersey Minimum Wage Increase Amendment, Public Question 2, which was designed to do two tasks. The first task has been implemented problem-free, and set the minimum wage to $8.25 as of January 1, 2014. The second, though, seems to need refinement and better definition. The second task is to annually adjust New Jersey’s minimum wage to the cost of living as of January 1, 2015. Here is the exact language as it appeared on the voting ballot: “Do you approve amending the State Constitution to set a State minimum wage rate of $8.25 per hour? The amendment also requires annual increases in that rate if there are annual increases in the cost of living.”
The issue that has stemmed from the language of the referendum came to life on September 30, 2014, when the Department of Labor and Workforce Development released a notice of administrative change to the minimum wage in accordance to the referendum. The New Jersey Department of Labor says, “based on any percentage increase during the one-year period of August of the prior year through August of the current year of the consumer price index (CPI) for all urban wage earners and clerical workers (CPI-W, U.S. City Average), as released by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics” is reason to implement an hourly wage of $8.38 as of January 1, 2015. In other words, the New Jersey Department of Labor is not actually adhering to the referendum that voters approved.
The New Jersey Department of Labor was wrong to adjust the 2015 minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index for three reasons. (1) The Consumer Price Index is a national tool that does not adequately apply to New Jersey. New Jersey is the fifth most expensive state to live in throughout the country, so a formula that generalizes expenses for the entire nation does not adequately account for costs in New Jersey. Even though in this case there was an increase of 13 cents, this methodology could eventually decrease the minimum wage and harm the New Jersey economy since it takes account of 45 other states that are less expensive to live in. (2) The United States Department of Labor clearly elicits a difference between the cost of living and the consumer price index. There is an entire paragraph on their webpage dedicated to distinguishing a difference between the two. (3) With such clear language within the referendum which requires an increase to the minimum wage coherent to increases in the cost of living, it is surprising that the New Jersey Department of Labor is attempting to adhere to the referendum by implementing a wage that would leave New Jersey families $6,419.60 below the National Poverty Threshold. The voters did not approve of annual minimum wage increases based upon the consumer price index.
Aside from the New Jersey voters not getting what they democratically voted for, they are also losing out financially. There are two academic institutions that have created tools and methodologies to calculate an hourly wage coherent to the cost of living in New Jersey. From MIT, Dr. Amy Glasmeier‘s data suggests that an hourly wage coherent to the cost of living in New Jersey would be $11.13. The Legal Services of New Jersey suggest an hourly wage of $13.75. Even though both of the academic projections themselves vary greatly, it is still important to acknowledge how much they differ from the New Jersey Department of Labor’s interpretation of the referendum. These academic projections average a $4.06 difference in hourly pay from the New Jersey Department of Labor’s use of an increase in the Consumer Price Index. The MIT projection would place a New Jersey family $700 below of the National Poverty Threshold, and the projection by The Legal Services of New Jersey would place a New Jersey family $4,750 above the National Poverty Threshold. Overall, both of the academic projections do a better job in supporting New Jersey families than a wage that leaves them $6,419.60 below the poverty line.
I highly anticipate this topic becoming the focus of future litigation in the Garden State. Going forward, New Jersey lawmakers need to realize the difference between the Consumer Price Index and the Cost of Living. Also, New Jersey needs to adopt a methodological format to calculate the State’s cost of living in order to annually change the minimum wage. Currently, New Jersey does not have any cost of living methodologies within its constitution, and it is clear that the purpose of the referendum is being left unfulfilled because of that.
The 2014 election season has come and gone, but it is still important for New Jersey residents to maintain their interests in politics in order for positive social change to occur. In order to try and provoke a continued interest, I’ll be providing prompts for potential, yet much needed legislation for the Garden State throughout the rest of November. In the third installation of NjPovertyReality’s Legislation Series, I call for a much needed overhaul to New Jersey’s opiate prescription policy.
In New Jersey, we no longer need to look at the seemingly endless collection of statistics to see our state’s addiction problem. Instead, we can look to our friends and neighbors, people we’ve grown up with, people who have raised us, even our children, and we can see the statistics come to life. Now, in 2014, we do not even need to look far to find an addict.
This reality is not to describe an inadequacy in the will-power of New Jersey’s people. It isn’t like 32,874 New Jersey residents fell weak to peer pressure in 2013. It isn’t like all of those people chose to start a daily regime of oxycodone or heroin, but rather they were prescribed a potentially lethal dose of addiction. New Jersey faces this exponentially growing epidemic because of how often opiate pain killers and muscle relaxers are prescribed in massive amounts, and also because of the ailments they are prescribed for.
For example, you can have your wisdom teeth removed. Boom, oxycodone. You can fall down the stairs. Boom, percocet. For these types of injuries, the doctors are responsible for taking away the pain. But is it still a best practice to prescribe a drug that is so out in the open for forcing so many of its users into addiction? I do not think so.
I myself experienced how easy it is to receive massive amounts of opiates and muscle relaxers due to one single injury at work. I suffered from a lumbar injury that resulted in an ambulance ride and the worst pain of my life. Indeed, some sort of remedy was in order, but between the medications I received in the hospital and later at the physician’s office, I had been prescribed more than 80 days worth of opiate pills and muscle relaxers. They came in all sorts too, almost so I could pick which drug to become addicted to. There was the ever popular oxycodone, morphine shots in the hospital, tramadol, diazepam, cyclobenzeprene, and percocet. If I hadn’t started physical therapy as soon as I did, who knows, maybe I would have felt the need to resort to the pills for relief, and maybe I would have become an addict. The point is, I never should have been given an 80 day opportunity to have addiction become my reality. (Disclaimer: All of the remaining pills have been properly disposed of and are no longer in my possession)
New Jersey needs to adopt stronger regulations on opiate drugs, maybe even to the point where New Jersey abolishes their prescription. It is a common knowledge situation by which these pills create addictive tendencies. Later on, the addicts of opiate pills likely go bankrupt trying to buy them on the black market after their prescription runs out, or they resort to slowly ending their lives with heroin addiction. Recently, New Jersey has seen a dramatic increase in heroin addicts to the point that Governor Christie was pretty much forced to pass legislation that allows 911 responders and residents to use narcan in order to revive someone from a heroin overdose.
We know what the common denominator is with this epidemic! It’s the pills! So many levels of government have acknowledged it, but no real action has occurred to prevent the need for things such as a heroin task force. Maybe it is because lawmakers have only been witnesses to the statistical, paper interpretations of the problem. Maybe it is because they have not seen the thousands of suburban children resorting to life in abandoned urban homes just to get high. Maybe it is because the public does not know what our sons and daughters look like, as skin and bones, with blood running down from their puncture wounds. This is New Jersey’s reality, and it’s time to do the following:
1. Ban the prescription of opiate pills in combination with muscle relaxers. 2. Ban the amounts of opiate pills exceeding a 10 day supply (if we can regulate how often the public buys cough syrup, we can regulate the frequency of opiate prescriptions). 3. Demand a non-addictive remedy to temporary pain to be the first prescription.
And, maybe one day, when medicinal marijuana is taken more seriously in New Jersey, maybe number 4 can be the complete abolition of opiate pills.
Following the past election, America added three locations to the list of areas which have legalized marijuana. Previously, the States of Colorado and Washington were the first two areas in the United States to decriminalize the use and sale of marijuana by regulating it. Now, The United States has added the states of Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia to the list of legal pot areas. Despite what seems to be a never ending dispute over the health risks, Colorado and Washington have both seen some incredible economic benefits. For example, Colorado was able to create more than 18,000 jobs through the regulation of marijuana, and the state expects to generate about $90 million or more in marijuana tax revenue every year. This has specifically benefitted Colorado so much to the point where the state will be distributing tax rebates due to the state ending the fiscal year with a surplus.
This could be New Jersey. For residents of the Garden State, this sounds far-fetched, and that’s because it is under Chris Christie’s administration. On March 27, 2014 New Jersey Senator Nicholas Scutari introduced a bill to legalize the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana. The bill was essentially dead on arrival due to the Governor’s clear fear of such a move tarnishing a possible 2016 run for the White House.
Under Scutari’s bill, 70% of the tax revenue generated from marijuana would be deposited into New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund, 20% into the Drug Enforcement and Demand Reduction Fund, and 10% dedicated to women’s health. Also, this bill is clear that sale and use of marijuana should only be warranted by persons of at least 21 years of age. I agree with this. An age restriction should be imposed equivalent to what is already imposed on alcohol. Children and teenagers do not need to be influenced by marijuana.
Although New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund is considerably in as bad shape as its Pension Fund, I don’t necessarily believe that a possible $63 million of what could be $90 million for New Jersey should be dedicated permanently to the Transportation Trust fund, or any specific account for that matter. If New Jersey should decide to create a Marijuana economy, such legislation should allow for the fluid movement of these funds to address specific economic needs, wherever and whenever they may arise. In other words, Marijuana legislation should occur annually in New Jersey, so that the Assembly and Senate approve the year’s use of the marijuana tax, just like they annually approve a budget. For such a new and desperately needed source of money, I simply find it to be unwise to not allow the possibility for New Jersey to use such revenue in large amounts in other accounts, such as providing better funding for, or even rebuilding, its public schools.
This new kind of revenue could also allow New Jersey to more easily adopt and fund a College Payment Program.
If New Jersey does plan to eventually pursue such an economy, I suggest that the State’s legislators act fast, since it may turn into a situation in which New Jersey is surrounded by States that have proceeded to legalize a marijuana economy, and the Garden State hasn’t. This would create a mass exodus of New Jersey’s spending dollars to it’s neighbors, thus multiplying and amplifying New Jersey’s current economic woes.
Retroactively thinking, New Jersey could have held somewhat of a monopoly on the marijuana industry in the much more populous Northeast, if Senator Scutari’s bill was given a chance. Now, it appears that the District of Columbia will strangely take advantage of that monopoly, unless New Jersey moves in on the game, which from an economic perspective, it clearly should.
The 2014 election season has come and gone, but it’s important for New Jersey residents to maintain their interests in politics in order for positive social change to occur. In order to try and provoke a continued interest, I’ll be providing prompts for potencial, yet much needed legislation for the Garden State throughout the rest of November. In the first part of NjPovertyReality’s legislation series, I’ll offer a possible remedy to the ever-growing amount of student debt in New Jersey.
The following is not completely my own idea, due to the brilliant students and professor at Portland State University in Oregon who have inspired the following elaboration:
New Jersey should adopt similar legislation that would give college students the option to attend a four year college or university without paying tuition while in college, which would then eliminate the need to take out private or government loans. The deal would be that the State of New Jersey covers the cost of tuition, and in turn, students who chose to have the State do so would have their future wages garnished by the State following graduation in order to return the payment. This eliminates the reality of students paying for more college than they received through interest, and at the proposed 3% garnish per year, a firmly established college graduate should have no difficulty adapting to such a wage garnish.
The difference between Oregon’s plan and this one, so far, is that the New Jersey Proposal would allow all students who are residents of New Jersey and attend a New Jersey institution to participate in the plan, regardless of the institution being public or private. In order to help cover some of the initial debt that the state would be assuming, students would be required to pay $1,000 at some point during their four years in college. The $1,000 (or, $250 a year) would be a symbiotic benefit to the student and the state by it reducing the total amount of money to be garnished from the student’s future wages, and it would also give the state some cash upfront.
Another difference in the New Jersey Proposal would be that students who have already graduated would be able to have their outstanding loans paid for by the State. However in this case, graduated students who would participate in this plan would need to agree to a 10% wage garnish. Students would participate in this program for a much smaller amount of time due to the large interest garnish, which makes sense due to the state suddenly assuming what could be four years worth of tuition rather than one year’s tuition for current students. Within the first ten years of New Jersey adopting such a college payment proposal, it is very likely that the 10% wage garnish for already graduated students would eventually become unnecessary due to most students choosing to participate in the 3% garnish option, and with time the population of students who have attended college before the implementation of this Proposal would diminish.
Overall, this type of legislation seems to make very good sense for the economy and for students. The New Jersey College Payment Proposal guarantees payments to be made, since they would directly be taken out of paychecks. The Proposal also allows students a better opportunity to make more of their time in college but making it not so necessary to hold one or more jobs while simultaneously being a full time college student. Such a proposal would also encourage students to make the most of their education and to seek higher paying jobs, since the more money they make essentially means less time they’ll spend owing the State a portion of their pay. Plus, since college graduates would no longer be paying interest on their student loans, per graduate, there would be thousands of extra dollars floating through the economy, rather than being pre-dedicated to interest-infused loan payments. This Proposal also addresses New Jersey’s worry of the “brain-drain” by which residents seek education in other parts of the country and eventually leave the State for good, taking their dollars with them. I highly doubt that high school graduates would pass up this opportunity in New Jersey. Who knows, maybe the Garden State would even begin to see more families crossing the Delaware River just so that their children could take advantage of such an opportunity.
I am sure that skeptics would say nay to this proposal due to the costly, seemingly continuous “in the red” nature of this program. I say that is really nothing to worry about, given the probable payback of increasing the number of highly educated people who would stay in New Jersey.
New Jersey is currently facing a few intense battles. While most battles are currently economic, there is also the growing battle of heroin in the Garden State. For the most part, New Jersey residents are surprisingly just as aware as the government is about the severity of the heroin epidemic that is sweeping through. For example, New Jersey legislators have passed some fantastic legislation equipping 911 responders and residents with narcan, a drug used to reverse the side effects of opiate drug overdoses. This legislation has and continues to save lives in New Jersey. However, despite several suburban areas being named as top heroin abusers, methadone clinics are being located elsewhere.
For example, Cherry Hill has a very significant heroin problem. This is a statement of both local knowledge and state data. So therefore, I must beg a question of common sense.
Why are the closest methadone clinics to Cherry Hill located within the same neighborhoods where Cherry Hill, and other suburban addicts previously bought their heroin? I understand that Cherry Hill, as a township, tries very hard to subdue what would be considered “bad press”. But when it comes down to reality, sometimes it is best to simply own what makes up your town. Build a methadone clinic in Cherry Hill! It would pretty much just be Cherry Hill residents going to a clinic, in Cherry Hill!
It is also unfair that another fix to a suburban problem has been shipped off to Camden. What other problems, you ask, have been shipped to Camden?
1. Camden County’s Trash to Steam Plant 2. The entire County’s Sewage 3. A cement grinder 4. A metal recycling plant 5. 76.8% of Camden County’s affordable housing units. And now, it seems like Camden County has graciously given Camden City two out of three locations for methadone treatments.
On November 5th, 2013 the People of New Jersey overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that would change the state’s pay scale. The approved referendum raised the wage from $7.25/hr to $8.25/hr as of January 1st, 2014, and from 2015 forward, the wage would need to be annually adjusted to the cost of living.
An announcement from New Jersey’s Department of Labor on September 30th, 2014 declared that the state’s minimum wage would increase to $8.38/hr on January 1st, 2015 in order to adhere to the constitutional amendment. The Department of Labor cites an increase of 1.59% of the consumer price index as the reason to increase the hourly wage by 13 cents.
That is what the New Jersey government says. However, there are several academic entities that suggest New Jersey’s 2015 minimum wage should be much higher than a mere 13 cent increase if New Jersey followed the constitutional amendment as it is written. For example, last year, MIT projected New Jersey’s cost of living for a single adult to yield a needed $11.13/hr wage. Within MIT’s database, every state and just about every town in the country has a calculated wage that corresponds to the cost of living. In May of 2013, the Legal Services of New Jersey Poverty Research Institute projected the state’s cost of living to yield a $13.75/hr wage for a single adult. Based upon such conflicting numbers, New Jersey residents should be questioning if the constitutional amendment is being followed as it was written. Even on the national spectrum, President Barack Obama has claimed that the entire nation is subject to insufficient wages, therefore he has launched a campaign to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10/hr in order to keep the nation on pace with the cost of living.
After acknowledging the above academic reports as well as the President’s national effort, while also taking into account the fact that New Jersey is the fifth most expensive state to live in throughout the entire country, how is it that the New Jersey government is falling an average $3.28 below exterior projections for a minimum wage that adheres to the cost of living?
Not too many people who live in Camden County know that there are 37 individual municipalities that make up the county. Some are rather large, especially when compared to several very small towns. All 37 of these towns are expected to co-exist with each other, with their own municipal codes, police departments, fire departments, school districts, and of course, their own businesses.
Some municipalities do very well as far as attracting business. Take Marlton for example, home of the Promenade. In this shopping center, there are high class specialty stores and some of the finest restaurants around. But, that’s just one side of RT 73. Shopping centers line both sides of the highway all the way into Berlin, which also has a plethora of stores. Audubon has even managed to cram the Audubon Crossings within the 1.5 square mile borough.
In Voorhees there exists a very unique town center setup in which retail is fused with living spaces. Such a layout exists both at Voorhees Town Center and Cooper Towne Center in Somerdale, located maybe five minutes from Voorhees’ center. Then of course is the Eagle Plaza, which sits at the edge of Cherry Hill, but is still within Voorhees.
Speaking of Cherry Hill, who can ignore the Mall? It is an indoor shopping experience and supposedly it is “South Jersey’s fashion destination”, as well as having several fine dining choices in the parking lot. Just down the road is Market Place at Garden State Park, which includes retail and living spaces. Then of course, Cherry Hill also has the Ellisberg and Barclay shopping centers to offer.
I really could go on, noting the main street developments in Haddonfield and Collingswood, or the soon to come, tax abatement-sponsored development in Gloucester Township. But in the end, it is very important to realize why there are so many shopping districts within a seemingly close distance in Camden County. Very simply, these shopping and living districts exist because they sell to the needs and desires of the communities that surround them.
So, this makes me beg the question; Why are there no such movements for the City of Camden? Surely, in fact I know, such shopping destinations and community areas are wanted by Camden residents. I remember an exercise that I participated in during a “college field trip” with former Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett. We visited elementary school students in 2012 at Coopers Poynt, and we asked the students what they would like to see if their neighborhood was redeveloped. The boys collectively wanted sports stores that sold nice hats and sneakers, and the girls wanted a Justice store and some places to get their nails painted. Both the boys and the girls said they wanted a movie theatre. These were instantaneous desires for these young Camden residents, and I’m certain that similar desires are held by their parents and grandparents too. After all, it would make the day a lot easier knowing that it would no longer be necessary to leave the city in order to go shopping.
So, again, I must beg another question; Why is the State of New Jersey pledging $40 million for the citizens of Gloucester Township to shop in places they’d want to shop, while also pledging another round of hundreds of millions of EOA approved dollars for Camden residents to again receive the things they do not want, and won’t benefit from?
I hope that the developments coming to the waterfront lead to many possibilities for Camden residents to have the places and the things that they want for their own community. For now it just seems like some big businesses and entities got a free ride into Camden on tax payers’ backs. To continue a trend that started in the 1990’s with the $100 million foundations of the aquarium and battleship, then continued in 2002 with the $175 million MRERA, hundreds of millions of state tax payer dollars are being sent to Camden in the form of relocating enterprises and sports teams to “bring it back”, but there still lacks an immediate (or any) benefit to residents to in fact bring the city back. One last question:
For whom, exactly, are we bringing Camden back?
As an extremely regular visitor to the City of Camden, I am very pleased that after three weeks and five days, a fence has at last been partially erected beneath the Radio Lofts building at Second and Cooper Streets.
I am concerned, though, as to why it took such an extremely long and drawn out process to simply prevent the public from risking serious injury by walking near the deteriorating building.
Due to how long it took for the city government to half-act on it’s own ordinance to close the sidewalks, I wonder how long it will take to completely close them, as the city’s own ordinance demands.
The city ordinance, date August 29th, calls for the complete closure of the sidewalks, both length and width, along the distance of the building plus 15 additional feet. That same ordinance, from my perspective at least, encompasses the RiverLine station.
The train station does sit higher above what is normally walked upon as a sidewalk. This fact unfortunatley does not create some sort of force field that would shield a RiverLine passenger from falling debris.
I know that closing the northbound Cooper Street location would be very inconvenient, but so is a brick crashing into someone’s skull, followed by copious amounts of liability issues.
If the City of Camden’s code enforcement officials would end up taking another three weeks to extend the protective fence, I would then urge the NJ Transit and RiverLine officials to take action on their own station in order to protect their riders.
This issue is not one of opinion due to the city’s own documentation of the building presently being a danger to human life. This is the reality that exists on Cooper Street.