From Norman’s Desk

Is New Jersey Really an Employment-First State? Hmm?

NJ claims to be an Employment First state for people with disabilities, yet the proposed $12,000 annual premium for people making less than a six-figure salary makes me go “Hmm?”’.

The reasoning behind the proposed premium is, even more, exasperating in its logic. The policy wonks believe that once the high income limits become effective there will be this huge influx of people with disabilities suddenly getting high-paying jobs who also need long-term support services during the first year. Seriously?

Why aren’t these people working now under WorkAbility? Hmm, perhaps they are sitting around waiting for these positions to appear. Or perhaps people with disabilities face many more barriers to being employed. Which scenario is more rooted in reality?

The latest National Trend in Disability Employment (nTIDE) from NJ’s Kessler Foundation may help in defining the current reality of those other barriers.  Hmm, a seven-tenth of one percent increase over 30 days nationally.  Certainly, that is a positive trend for people with disabilities, but does it support the current thinking behind the premium proposal that, somehow, all these other barriers will disappear creating this stampede of people with disabilities obtaining gainful employment once these income limits are increased?

This reasoning ignores that the WorkAbility reform intended to allow people already working and on WorkAbility to have salary increases without endangering their long-term support services needed to work. High pay means paying more taxes, which may actually be a net savings to the program. Allowing the current WorkAbility recipients to get higher salaries does not increase the program’s costs. They stay the same no matter what the recipient is paid.

Yes, in the coming years, WorkAbility will get more people applying;  yes, a cost-sharing premium may be needed at some point. But let the people on the program now have a chance to increase their incomes before imposing this additional tax on us. It’s not equitable or fair, and it’s based on faulty assumptions.

Norman A. Smith, HCCP
Co-Founder/Associate Executive Director
Project Freedom Inc.
Past Chair, NJ Statewide Independent Living Council

Project Freedom receives $175,000 Housing for Everyone Grant from TD Charitable Foundation

Support from the TD Charitable Foundation to help with nutrition and wellness activities

Project Freedom Inc., the 39-year-old nonprofit developer of supportive and affordable housing designed for people with disabilities, was recently awarded a $175,000 Housing for Everyone grant from the TD Charitable Foundation, the charitable giving arm of TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®.

Project Freedom is one of 37 non-profit organizations selected from more than 450 applicants to receive a Housing for Everyone grant as part of the TD Charitable Foundation’s signature grant initiative that has helped support organizations that are focused on providing affordable housing and affordable housing services since 2005.

In recent years the housing affordability crisis has continued to be a financial burden on families. As individuals and families across the country struggle with inflation and an exponential rise in rental costs, affordable housing providers face increased hardship given the growing demand for affordable rental units and emergency rental assistance.

The grant will support Project Freedom’s organic farm program that brings fresh, New Jersey-grown food to each of its seven Mercer complexes.  In addition, the organization also runs wellness programs.

“We are honored to receive this grant from TD Charitable Foundation,” said Tracee Battis, Executive Director of Project Freedom. “TD Bank has been involved with developing many of our affordable housing complexes.  Now this grant will further assist our tenants with disabilities.”

“This funding, along with food donations from community support agencies and community-minded stores, helps our tenants fight the high cost of food,” added Norman A. Smith, Co-Founder and Associate Executive Director of Project Freedom. “Through our support partners, we bring a variety of foods, baked goods, and organically grown produce to our tenants many of whom have disabilities.”

Through the 17th annual Housing for Everyone grant competition, the TD Charitable Foundation awarded $7 million across the Bank’s Maine-to-Florida footprint and Michigan to help support affordable housing organizations that focus on preserving affordable rental housing in their work to deliver rental assistance, rehabilitating affordable rental housing properties, and build organizational capacity to address resident sustainability for the long-term.

Since 2005, the TD Charitable Foundation has given more than $49 million dollars to non-profit and charitable organizations through the Housing for Everyone grant competition and helped support more than 550 affordable housing projects and initiatives.

The Housing for Everyone grant competition supports TD’s longstanding commitment to community enrichment through TD’s corporate citizenship platform, The TD Ready Commitment, which actively promotes inclusivity, economic vitality, and environmental well-being enabling people of all backgrounds to succeed in a rapidly changing world.


About Project Freedom Inc.

Project Freedom Inc. (PFI) is a 39-year-old organization dedicated to empowering people with disabilities to live independently through housing and related support services.  People with physical disabilities and other advocates started the organization.  They saw the need to build a barrier-free apartment complex with support services to meet their collective needs. Project Freedom has built 757 affordable and accessible apartments in five counties.  

About the TD Charitable Foundation


The TD Charitable Foundation is the charitable giving arm of TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®, one of the 10 largest commercial banking organizations in the United States. Since its inception in 2002, the Foundation has distributed over $300 million through donations to local nonprofits from Maine to Florida footprint and Michigan. More information on the TD Charitable Foundation is available at

PF Trustees Elected During Annual Membership Meeting

Project Freedom Inc. recently held its annual membership meeting as required by its by-laws.  Tracee Battis, President and Executive Director of Project Freedom Inc., gave her annual report to the assembled members providing an update on current and future projects.

The meeting then turned to the election of Trustees to the Board of Trustees.  Gary Backinoff, Chair of the Nominating Committee, presented a slate of nominees.  The floor was then opened up for additional nominations from the membership at large.  No other nominations were made, the nomination process was closed, and a vote on the slate was ordered. 

Norman A. Smith, Vice President and Associate Executive Director, “cast the ballot” in favor of the slate and electing to the Board of Trustees:

Gary Backinoff
Kelly Borden-Joye,
Robert Buda, Jr.
Jim Colitsas
Mary Geopfhert
Tim Lutz
Matt Markovich
Norman Smith
Daniel Surtz
Tim Wolf

The meeting was then adjourned.

Carving Refuse into Beauty. One Tenant’s Quest

Recently Project Freedom at Hamilton trimmed its trees of excess branches. Normally this refuse would be ground up into chips or disposed of in an eco-friendly manner.

Vincent “Vinnie”‘ Chiavonia, an original tenant of the 21-year-old complex, saw these branches in a different light–a more artistic light.

Vinnie received permission to take the branches, and he went to work with his hands to create wall decorations and bigger carvings.

“I started painting in 1977,” said Vinnie, “but started carving after I moved in here in 2001.  I stopped for a while, but my Mom urged me to start up again.  I recently started on  small logs.”

Vinnie finds carving and painting very relaxing.


‘People will die waiting’: America’s system for the disabled is nearing collapse

Providers for intellectually and developmentally disabled struggle to recruit and retain staff amid soaring inflation, pandemic burnout.

By Dan Goldberf,, August 10, 2022

Private agencies that provide services for the intellectually and developmentally disabled have long warned that, without fresh state and federal funding, they would be unable to provide housing and staff support to the growing number of Americans who need care.

Over the last 12 months, the Covid-19 pandemic’s lingering effects and once-in-a-generation inflation have turned dire predictions into sobering truths, and agency directors, who for years hobbled along on shoestring budgets, have done in 2022 what not long ago would have been unthinkable: closed their doors.

Read More by Clicking Here

Project Freedom “Spotlights” the Need for New Funding

When NJ Governor Phil Murphy announced $303 million in federal funding being budgeted for affordable housing, the media turned to Project Freedom to explain why the funding is needed.  Taceee Battis, Project Freedom’s Executive Director, joined other affordable housing advocates to talk about how this money will help build more housing with affordable rents. 

Read Tracee’s comments here.

Watch Tracee’s Spotlight/NJPBS interview here.  


Paralympic Winter Games will have Primetime Coverage by NBC

NBC will present primetime coverage of a Paralympic Winter Games for the first time when the network broadcasts the 2022 Games from Beijing, a spokesperson told USA TODAY Sports. 

The games start March 4 and will be shown on NBC, Peacock, USA Network, Olympic Channel, and the NBC Sports app. The opening and closing ceremony are set to air live on USA Network. 

Seven total hours, including three in primetime, of the games will air on NBC.

Just as they are doing with the 2022 Beijing Games set to start next week, the Paralympics will livestream all events on Peacock, via the premium tier.

NBC is banking on following the success of the Tokyo Paralympics last summer, which set records for viewership.

Read More by Clicking Here

Selective Insurance & Nottingham Agency Join to Support PF Recreation Activities


Selective Insurance Company of America and the Nottingham Insurance agency combined to raise $249 to support Project Freedom’s recreation and support services for its tenants.

The donation was the positive result of a presentation to the Selective staff at their headquarters in Hamilton last summer.

Nottingham Insurance Agency has been supporting Project Freedom for over 35 years and, as a community-minded, has contributed many volunteer hours to Project Freedom events.

Selective staff members have pledged to volunteer their time for future activities.

Pictured Left to Right: Herb Schneider, Chair, Project Freedom Board of Trustee; Tracee Battis, Executive Director: Norman A, Smith, Associate Executive Director; Teresa M. Caro, Senior Vice President, Selective Insurance; Jack Blair, Partner, Nottingham Insurance, and Kathy Staggard, Underwriting Manager, Selective Insurance.

Take The Isolation Survey

The New Jersey Legislature passed a law that requires the New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS) to study social isolation among four specified groups: seniors age 65 and older, individuals with disabilities, individuals with mental illness, and those who have or currently serve in the military. 

For this study, social isolation is defined as a lack of contact or meaningful connection with others. Social isolation may have varying effects on someone’s quality of life and well-being. By studying how widespread social isolation is and determining related risk factors, it is hoped that services can be improved or introduced to improve people’s lives.

Your participation in this survey is completely voluntary. Your responses will not affect the services you receive. If you are helping someone to complete the survey, please make sure you are providing their responses and not your own. 

All responses provided are anonymous and will be reported in an aggregated manner. Any questions regarding this survey can be sent to

Thank you for your participation.


Watch & Follow the Paralympics

On 29 July 1948, the day of the Opening Ceremony of the London 1948 Olympic Games, Dr. Guttmann organized the first competition for wheelchair athletes which he named the Stoke Mandeville Games, a milestone in Paralympic history. They involved 16 injured servicemen and women who took part in archery.

The Stoke Mandeville Games later became the Paralympic Games which first took place in Rome, Italy, in 1960 featuring 400 athletes from 23 countries. Since then they have taken place every four years.

In 1976 the first Winter Games in Paralympics history were held in Sweden, and as with the Summer Games, have taken place every four years, and include a Paralympics Opening Ceremony and Paralympics Closing Ceremony.

Since the Summer Games of Seoul, Korea in 1988 and the Winter Games in Albertville, France in 1992 the Games have also taken part in the same cities and venues as the Olympics due to an agreement between the IPC and IOC.

Everything “Paralympics” can be found by clicking here.

Live video coverage and recorded coverage will be provided by NBC through its various streaming Apps.