Jewish charities look to the government for help
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Jewish charities look to the government for help

With the tanking economy and the fallout from the Bernard Madoff scandal, many Jewish groups are going to depend on federal grants to get by, the Forward reports.

Jewish agencies such as nursing homes and community centers take in an estimated $10 billion each year from government sources — some 10 times the amount these agencies raise from the public. Most of the $10 billion is directed through state governments that are struggling mightily to stay afloat in the current economic downturn.

In California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is facing a spiraling economic crisis and a $14 billion budget gap, Los Angeles’s Jewish Family Service is one of the agencies already feeling the squeeze. The agency, which oversees care of the elderly and disabled, took a cut of nearly $1 million to its budget this year. Twenty people were laid off as a result. Even more cuts are anticipated for the coming fiscal year, set to start in July. Worse, this month, due to the budgetary overruns, the state is set to stop sending checks — even for programs it had promised to cover.

California’s situation may be the direst, but similar budget battles across the country have Jewish charities looking to President Obama’s financial stimulus plan as the one ray of light in the darkness. The nearly $1 trillion plan is set to inject massive amounts of cash into struggling state budgets. In New York, Jewish organizations estimate that the stimulus plan could halve the budget cuts that will be necessary in 2010. …

In the past few months alone, the crisis has already led to cuts that have seriously affected the services that Jewish agencies offer.

• In New York, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty laid off 11 staff members and cut out a program for homebound elderly that provided handyman services.

• In Palm Beach, Fla., the local newspaper reported that the Jewish federation cut from its budget 27 staff members and $2.8 million — both reductions of around 15%.

• In Boston, Jewish Family & Children’s Service ended its program for Russian-immigrant teenagers and eliminated one of its so-called naturally occurring retirement communities, which provided services to seniors so that they did not have to move into nursing homes.

These cuts come as the fundraising campaigns of the Jewish federations, which ended last December, raised less than they did in 2007, and endowments returned less. But the largest sources of funding for almost all Jewish agencies are the state and federal governments.

In Ohio, $117 million flows from the government to Jewish agencies around the state. Joyce Garver Keller, who deals with the state government on behalf of Ohio’s Jewish federations, just got the proposed state budget for 2010. She is bracing for nearly 20% cuts in government funding — a drop of $22 million. That will likely affect the state’s eight Jewish nursing homes, its Jewish day schools and the Holocaust memorial in Cincinnati, among other things. As she spoke to the Forward, Garver Keller took note of the stream of messages coming into her inbox, from people asking about the shortfalls.

Not surprisingly, as both JTA’s Eric Fingerhut and the Jewish Week’s Jim Besser report, the crisis has triggered a major Jewish lobbying push in Washington in support of the stimulus bill.