Participating In Democracy

Last month New Jersey Legislature leaders tried to pass a partisan gerrymandering bill SCR152/ACR205. Fortunately, a host of public interest groups, organizations and concerned citizens were able to thwart the effort to destabilize fair elections. At a hearing in December, more than 100 progressive individuals testified against the bill. The only supporters were the authors of the bill. The bill was shelved, a win for democracy. In a December 17 press release the League of Women Voters wrote, “They tried to pass these changes quickly and quietly when they thought nobody was paying attention, but we were there to shine a light, to mobilize the opposition, and to ensure voters were educated and their voices were heard. Our work isn’t finished. We now have the opportunity to work collaboratively with legislators and our partners in this fight to advance redistricting reforms that put power in the hands of voters and not politicians.”

This incident in New Jersey should not be treated as an isolated incident. Rather, it should be a reminder that democracy only works when citizens participate. Both Democrats and Republicans cheat the system for their own end. It reminds me of an online lobbying effort I participated in that succeeded in having all New Jersey legislative bills posted on the Internet. During the process one legislator was able to nearly kill the bill. A last-minute amendment on the floor of the State Senate saved the bill. It took a two-year effort to get the reform bill enacted into law. What was learned was to 1) watch a bill every minute because you don’t know what horse-trading will take place and 2) only an overwhelming group of citizen activists can prevail when confronting entrenched power. (Thanks for passage of the Internet bill S1068/A2372 goes to Paul Axel-Lute, a law librarian at Rutgers-Newark, who found a legislator to introduce the bill, to Jim Warren of California who was my mentor in this new area of online lobbying, to the New Jersey Library Association for their political education activities and to Senator Nia Gill of Montclair for rescuing the bill on the floor of the Senate.

If you still need to make a resolution for the New Year you should decide to make your voice heard or join a campaign, but do something to get involved. Perhaps register new voters. Call your elected officials, regularly.

Defending our institutions in these times of political anarchy displayed on Pennsylvania Avenue demands that we stand up. We must be engaged and active in our local communities. Collectively there is power when we work together.

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NJSave – Online Application For Seniors

The New Jersey Division of Aging Services has launched a new online application,
NJSave, for the benefit of older New Jerseyans. It is targeted to individuals with lower income or disabilities. The application makes it easier to evaluate program eligibility in such areas as: prescription drugs (PAAD program), Medicare premiums, utilities (Lifeline Utility Assistance) and other living expenses.

Additional information is available on the Division’s NJSave page.

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How To Respond

The text below was actually an email sent yesterday by Beto O’Rourke, the Congressman from El Paso, Texas who nearly won a U.S. Senate seat. It is worth reading in light of the recent tear gas assault on refugees on our southern border.

We have learned by speaking with one voice change is possible. The 2018 election proved that. We can make a difference by making a gift to organizations that support immigrants. Listed below are a couple organizations you can contribute to during this holiday season.

Email text from Beto O’Rourke:

It should tell us something about her home country that a mother is willing to travel 2,000 miles with her 4-month-old son to come here. Should tell us something about our country that we only respond to this desperate need once she is at our border. So far, in this administration, that response has included taking kids from their parents, locking them up in cages, and now tear gassing them at the border.

People are leaving violent countries where they fear for their lives. Without money, they are subsisting on hope for their kids, for themselves, that they can get to safety. After being denied the ability to lawfully petition for asylum for the last 10 days, they are desperate.

We choose how to respond to this challenge.

Let’s do this the right way and follow our own laws. Allow asylum seekers to petition for asylum at our ports of entry. They must do so peacefully and follow our laws; but we must also ensure the capacity to effectively and timely process those claims (right now 5,000 waiting in Tijuana and only 40 to 100 are processed a day).

Those who have a credible fear of returning to their home country (as determined by a U.S. judge) will be able stay until their full asylum request has been determined. Those applicants ultimately granted asylum will then live in the U.S., make us a better country for being here, and those who are not granted asylum will be returned to their home country.

Longer term: work with the people of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to address underlying conditions that are causing them to flee in the first place. That means addressing effects of our failed past involvement in those countries (in their civil wars, drug trade and drug wars) and the institutional failings in those countries (rule of law).

It won’t be easy and will involve a much greater investment of time, focus and resources. Or we can continue to ignore those countries and their people until they show up at our border.

– Beto

Consider a gift to:
Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition or New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.

Remember, today is #GivingTuesday.

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Updated Congressional Delegation List – 116th Congress

Many have made it a practice of contacting their representatives in DC, a habit started in January, 2017. To prepare for and to welcome the 116th Congress, an updated list of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania delegations is available online.

It will be important to let our elected representatives hear our voices.

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ACA Open Enrollment 11/01/18 – 12/15/18

The Open Enrollment Period under the Affordable Care Act is from November 1 to Friday, December 15. Families in need of health coverage can sign up at HealthCare.gov.

The state of New Jersey recently launched a Get Covered NJ website to help people enroll. The site includes information about plan options, financial assistance and contact information for New Jersey consumers who want help to get covered.

As part of the outreach campaign, the state is also working with five community organizations to support enrollment efforts. These organizations are providing application assistance and conducting outreach events. The organizations are:

  • Center for Family Services – 877-922-2377
  • The Family Resource Network – 800-355-0271
  • Oranges ACA Navigator Project – 973-500-6031
  • Fulfill | Monmouth & Ocean – 732-918-2600 or 732-731-1400
  • Urban League of Hudson County – 201-451-8888, ext. 217

New Jerseyans can also call 877-9-NAVIG8 (877-962-8448) to talk about health insurance options and get help enrolling.

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Living Near Poverty

Most people don’t see poverty on a regular basis. It’s often out of site and out of mind. The other day a timely report was issued about families living near poverty. The numbers are astounding.

A news story was published yesterday in the New Jersey Herald by reporter Jennifer Jean Miller. It is titled, Report: 23 percent in county struggle but not in poverty. Before reading the article think of the phrases we often use to describe unfavorable life situations, “trying to make ends meet” or “struggling to get by”. Think of those who work two or three jobs.

For additional information visit the ALICE in New Jersey page of the United Way of Northern New Jersey. ALICE = Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. You can download the full 2018 New Jersey ALICE report.

November 6 is Election Day. Make your voice heard. Be a voter.

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Voter Registration Deadlines Approaching

Elections matter. If you want to see change happen you must participate.

Below is a set of voter information links. If you live in New Jersey you can download a
voter registration application form to be then mailed to your County Commissioner of Registration or Superintendant of Elections.

You can also check an Am I Registered page to determine if you are already registered. You should perform a polling place search if a new voter or recently moved to a new voting area.

To register in New Jersey you must be:

  • A United States citizen
  • At least 17 years old and may vote when reaching the age of 18
  • A resident of the county for 30 days before the election
  • You are NOT currently serving a sentence, probation or parole because of a felony conviction

If you live in Pennsylvania you can complete an online voter registration application. You can also check your voter registration status or find your polling place.

To register to vote in Pennsylvania you must:

  • Be a citizen of the United States for at least one month before the election
  • Be a resident of Pennsylvania and the election district in which you want to register and vote for at least 30 days before the next election
  • Be at least 18 years of age on or before the day of the next election

Keep these deadlines in mind. New Jersey voters have until October 16 to register for the November election. The last day to apply for a civilian absentee ballot is October 30 and must be returned by November 5.

The last day to register for the General Election in Pennsylvania is October 9. The last day to apply for a mail-in ballot is October 30. They must be returned by November 2.

Be a voter.

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