By Michelle Caffrey | South Jersey Times
Companies that offer “free” deals, only to surprise customers with big bills, extra fees and hidden costs, are the targets of a new bill proposed by N.J. legislators.
The “Free Means Free Act” — introduced by Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-4 of Washington Township, Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-31 of Jersey City) and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-18 of South Plainfield) last week — would ban the advertisement of a product as free or at no cost if it isn’t ultimately free.
The bill is specifically aimed at advertising, offering or selling a product as “free” if they charge a customer with a return or restocking fee if they attempt to return a product, charge cancellation fees for ending a contract service early if the fee includes the product’s cost, or tacks on any extra fee intended to cover the cost of the product onto a regular bill for service.
“Advertisements that claim a product will be given away free take advantage of consumers in need,” Moriarty said in a statement. “Many families are still struggling to make ends meet in this economy. It’s deceptive and unfair to consumers who work hard for every dollar earned to be misinformed and then nickel and dimed with extra costs.”
Additionally, the ‘Free Means Free’ act requires companies to disclose a number of details about a product offered as free, including its retail value, if its included as part of signing a contract or making another purchase, if a cancellation fee could apply to early termination of a contract and any return or restocking fees a customer could face if they bring the product back.
The bill would place misleading “free” advertising practices under the Consumer Fraud Act, meaning any violation could result in a $10,000 maximum fine for a first offense, and a $20,0000 fine for a second offense.
“I am sure that the reputable businesses of New Jersey will welcome this common sense legislation. Free should mean exactly that….FREE,” said Diegnan in a statement. ” Any added costs or required purchases should be clearly stated in the advertisement.”
Bill Aims to Decrease Incarceration Rates by Capturing & Treating More Undiagnosed Cases
By a vote of 53-15-6, the full Assembly has approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Assembly Democrats Nancy Pinkin, Gabriela Mosquera and Daniel Benson to identify at-risk children and young adults with brain injuries in cooperation with the state’s mental health and juvenile justice systems.
The lawmakers noted that a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Adolescent Health indicated that half of all 16- to 18-year-olds in New York City’s jails said they had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated, most of which were caused by assaults.
“Many times brain injuries are misdiagnosed or even undiagnosed because a victim might not show immediate or obvious signs of injury,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “These injuries can eventually manifest themselves as aggression or violent behavior if not treated properly. If we can increase awareness and diagnoses, then hopefully we can get treatment for those in need to help avoid incarceration and other negative consequences down the line.”
“For many reasons, traumatic brain injuries in youths often go undetected, especially if it’s a younger child who can’t communicate their needs that well yet,” said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “Rather than sentencing these young people to a perpetual cycle of incarceration or run-ins with the law, let’s get them the treatment they need to deal with certain behaviors that may be beyond their control.”
Specifically, the bill (A-3453) directs the existing brain injury screening and education program in the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) to identify children and young adults between the ages of 5 and 21 with traumatic brain injuries who are involved, or who may be at risk of involvement, with the state’s mental health or juvenile justice systems.
“This bill will create an additional safety net to help catch and treat at-risk youth with brain injuries,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “The goal is to help get them the treatment they need so they don’t slip through the cracks and end up in the juvenile justice system, squandering their potential.”
“The consequences of not identifying brain injuries early in a child can be enormous and long-lasting,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Identifying them early can improve their education, minimize societal risks and boost their long-term outcome in life.”
Once identified, the program would provide education, raise awareness and promote outreach to parents, guardians and a myriad of relevant stakeholders about traumatic brain injuries in children and young adults and the availability of treatment services and rehabilitative programs geared to their specific needs.
Under the bill, the Commissioner of DCF, in consultation with the New Jersey Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council, shall implement:
– a reliable and validated standardized screening tool and structured interviews to assess prior history of brain injury to be conducted by individuals with a foundational knowledge of brain injury, along with training and consultancy for a wide variety of relevant stakeholders, including, but not limited to, educators, judges, and psychiatric professionals;
– measures to increase awareness of, and education on, traumatic brain injuries in children and young adults, including information on the links between traumatic brain injury, juvenile delinquency, and the early onset of psychiatric diagnoses, the value of early detection, and the treatment services and rehabilitative programs available to children and young adults;
– outreach strategies to disseminate information about traumatic brain injuries and the treatment services and rehabilitative programs available to children and young adults through a variety of entities; and
– guidelines for a more detailed assessment, along with information and resources would be made available to parents and guardians following positive screening of a prior history of brain injury.
The bill also direct the Commissioner of DCF to apply for and accept any grant money from the federal government, private foundations, or other sources, which may be available for programs for children and young adults with traumatic brain injury.
Finally, the Commissioner of DCF, in consultation with the council, would annually report to the Governor and the Legislature, no later than 12 months after the effective date of the bill, on the activities of the screening program and the program’s effectiveness in meeting its objectives.
The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Medicare’s open enrollment period comes only once a year.
This year’s Open Enrollment Period is October 15 – December 7, 2014. This is when all people with Medicare can change their health plan and prescription drug plan coverage. If you enroll in a plan during Fall Open Enrollment, your coverage starts January 1.
Medicare plan benefits and your needs can change on an annual basis, so use the open enrollment period to compare your options and get the right fit.
During this past year, have you: Changed the medications you take? Been diagnosed with a new medical condition? Any of those changes could mean your current Medicare plan no longer meets your needs.
Medicare plans also change. The costs of your plan can go up or down, and prescription drugs can be added or dropped from the list of drugs included in your plan. Some Medicare plans change the benefits they offer or stop offering coverage in a particular location.
Because of such changes, you should check your current Medicare plan and, if necessary, switch to another one that fits you better.
You can compare the plans available in your area, and enroll in a new plan if you choose, by visiting your county SHIP Coordinator.
The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) provides free help to New Jersey Medicare beneficiaries who have problems with, or questions about their health insurance. SHIP is a statewide program sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Human Services with major funding from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal Medicare agency.
Medicare beneficiaries frequently have questions about benefits and claims, supplement policies, and long-term care insurance. Volunteer counselors, trained in areas of health insurance coverage and benefits that affect Medicare beneficiaries, provide information and assistance for dealing with claims and in evaluating health insurance needs.
Volunteer counselors do not provide legal advice, sell, recommend or endorse any specific insurance product, agent, insurance company, Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) or Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) plan. They provide information and assistance so that you can make your own decisions. Counseling is free of charge.
If you are a resident in Camden County you can make your SHIP appointment by calling 856-858-3220
If you are a resident in Gloucester County you can make your SHIP appointment by calling 856-468-5000
Or go to: Medicare.gov or call 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227)
By Trish Graber
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Labor Committee Chairman Fred H. Madden and Senator Jim Beach to streamline the process businesses use to pay into the unemployment insurance system, in order to safeguard benefits for New Jersey’s unemployed, was approved this week by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
The bill (S2415) would implement a recommendation made by the state Auditor in 2013 after an audit found that some businesses were sending unemployment compensation payments to the Department of Labor instead of the Department of Treasury. Those payments, in some cases, were then being hand delivered to Treasury, increasing the risk of lost payments.
“The audit exposed vulnerabilities within the system that increased the potential for theft or loss of funds. Clearly, we should have a better system for processing payments than hand-delivering checks from one state department to another,” said Senator Madden (D-Gloucester/Camden). “Requiring that payments are sent directly to the appropriate department will safeguard the funding that New Jersey’s unemployed rely on to make ends meet. At the same time, it will remove any confusion about the process for businesses.”
As part of its review of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DLWD), the State Auditor performed cash counts on three separate dates and counted checks on hand totaling over $525,000. Noting that the continuing practice of sending some checks to the DLWD is lengthy and opens up the possibility for error, the State Auditor recommended that all unemployment payments be submitted electronically or sent directly to the Division of Revenue. The bill (S2415) would implement that recommendation, by clarifying that all payments, reports and receipts from employers related to the unemployment compensation program must be submitted directly to the Division of Revenue in the Department of the Treasury.
“The audit found disturbing instances of checks intended for the UI fund being hand delivered to the Treasury Department, increasing the risk for impropriety. It makes no sense to move hundreds of thousands of dollars between state departments through a courier system, especially when the transaction process can be improved significantly through minor adjustments,” said Senator Beach (D-Camden). “This bill will clarify that all payments to the UI fund must go directly to Treasury, removing the risk that money could get lost in the shuffle.”
The committee approved the bill by a vote of 13-0. It next heads to the full Senate for a vote.
Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera to make it easier for taxpayers to donate to the ALS Association passed 77-0 in the Assembly last week.
The bill (A-3290) requires gross income tax returns to include a provision to allow taxpayers to make voluntary donations to the Greater Philadelphia and Greater New York Chapters of the ALS Association for taxable years beginning on or after the date of enactment. The measure establishes the ALS Association Support Fund as a depository for the donations.
“The mission of the ALS Association is to lead the fight to treat and cure ALS through global research and nationwide advocacy, while also empowering people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and their families to live fuller lives by providing them with compassionate care and support through a nationwide network of chapters,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “Making it easier for New Jerseyans to support this cause is the right thing to do.”
The bill directs 50 percent of deposits to the ALS Association Support Fund to be appropriated to the Greater Philadelphia chapter of the ALS Association for services the organization provides to residents located in southern New Jersey and 50 percent of deposits to be appropriated to the Greater New York Chapter of the ALS Association for services provided to residents in central and northern New Jersey. The bill additionally authorizes the Division of Taxation to retain sufficient receipts from the donations to cover administrative costs.
“ALS is a terrible disease and we need to make it as easy as possible to support the effort to overcome it,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “A simple step like this could go a long way toward finding a cure, which is our shared goal.”
“For New Jerseyans able to do so, this option could make it easier to donate to this worthy cause,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “We all want to put an end to ALS, and anything that helps the cause is a step forward.”
“ALS advocacy and funding are critical in the effort to care for and support men and women with this illness,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “This legislation will provide New Jersey residents with the means to help improve the overall quality of life for those living with ALS and end the disease altogether.”
“During the past few months, we’ve seen unprecedented funding and attention go toward curing ALS, and this bill has the potential to keep that momentum going,” said Garcia (D-Hudson). “The easier we make it for people across New Jersey to contribute to the ALS Association, the more likely it is that they will join in the fight against this debilitating illness.”
“When people know how they can help and that they’re giving to a reputable organization, they want to contribute,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “This legislation will facilitate giving and provide New Jersey residents with a way to support those living with ALS.”
“Every year, thousands of men and women across the nation receive an ALS diagnosis, and along with the physical difficulties, they must prepare for new financial burdens,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “The recent surge in awareness and fundraising for the ALS Association was outstanding, but we can’t let that be a one-time thing. This bill will help provide much-needed support for New Jersey residents with ALS well into the future.”
“In a single month this summer, concerned donors across the nation raised $100 million for the ALS Association, making it clear that people want to give to this cause,” said Caputo (D-Essex). “This legislation establishes a means for New Jersey taxpayers to continue giving to the ALS Association as it works to support residents dealing with this devastating disease.”
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and is estimated to impact some 30,000 Americans at any given time, with an estimated 5,600 individuals newly diagnosed with the disease each year.
The legislation now awaits further consideration by the Senate.