B’nai B’rith Slashes Budget but Denies Bankruptcy Reports

B’nai B’rith International plans to slash $2 million from next year’s annual budget, with a hefty portion of that cut expected to hit two programs targeted at youth: Hillel and the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization.

Nevertheless, the impact on Hillel, the college campus program, is not likely to be dramatic, because B’nai B’rith provides less than 10 percent of Hillel’s $22.5 million annual income.

This week, B’nai B’rith officials were reeling from, a report in U.S. News & World Report that the organization would be “forced shortly to declare bankruptcy.”

Its president, Tommy Bear, categorically denied the claim and threatened legal action.

At the same, time he conceded that a $2 million budget shortfall would prompt a reallocations of resources as the agency carries out a long-term restructuring process to “make it more receptive to members’ needs.”

But “to equate major restructuring with financial collapse” is “irresponsible,” Baer said in a statement. “We are shocked at this gross misstatement of facts and are consulting legal counsel to restore our reputation,” he said.

The group’s financial difficulties stem in part from B’nai B’rith $2 million loss in annual income from a change two years ago in the members’ insurance program, Baer said.

To compensate for the loss and “provide a cushion against future losses,” the budget committee last week cut $2 million from the 1997 budget, which now totals $12 million. The 1996 budget was $15.2 million.

“We are reallocating our resources and redefining our properties,” Baer said.

Sidney Clearfield, the group’s executive vice president, said the exact target of the cuts had yet to be determined, but that “a substantial amount of money” would taken out of Hillel and BBYO. When pressed, he said only that the cuts would be much closer to $500,000 than $10,000.

Richard Joel, Hillel’s international director, was in transit and unavailable for comment on the potential impact of the cuts.

For her part, Nurite Notarius-Rosin, a Hillel spokeswomen, said it was “very premature to speculate” about the cuts. Budget information she provided, however, indicated that the impact would not necessarily be dramatic.

Of the more than $22 million in Hillel’s income for 1994-1995, Only $1.9 million came from B’nai B’rith.

Hillel was once a division of B’nai B’rith. Now, the Jewish federations are its single largest source of income, providing $9.7 million in 1994-1995.

Clearfield said overall money-saving efforts would include cutting six clerical positions and not replacing five other staffers who would leave the agency under the natural attrition.

B’nai B’rith spokeswoman Robin Schwartz-Kreger added that the agency’s book publishing efforts also would be scaled back.

B’nai B’rith officials involved with the BBYO were not available to comment on how their programs would be affected.

A vote on the restructuring plan is slated for the group’s international convention in Washington at the end of August.

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