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Groups appeal to Congress to preserve entitlements

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An array of Jewish groups appealed to the U.S. Congress to leave intact major entitlement programs.

"We recognize that this country’s very significant budget deficit threatens the long-term prosperity of our nation," said the letter sent April 14 to every member of Congress by  national and local public policy groups and spearheaded by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Federations of North America umbrella groups. "We also believe that the major entitlement programs protect the health and economic security of our most vulnerable citizens.

"Within the current framework of Medicaid and Medicare, we believe that it is possible to restrain growth and rein in costs. We are capable of strengthening their long-term viability without a fundamental restructuring that turns Medicaid into a block grant or Medicare into a voucher program."

Medicaid provides medical care for the poor and Medicare for the elderly. "Block grants" are federal funds transferred to states for wide discretionary use; Jewish groups worry that without controls, the money does not reach its intended targets.

Republicans, who have the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, have proposed restructuring the entitlement programs as a way of reducing the deficit.

The JCPA/JFNA-led letter appealed for the preservation of other programs assisting the needy, including those providing heating, food, education and child care.

The letter also targeted plans by the Obama administration to reduce line-item charitable deductions.

"We are disappointed that the President’s budget again recommends limiting the value of itemized deductions, including contributions to charities," the letter said. "If this provision were enacted, charitable giving would be reduced dramatically."

Fifteen national groups in addition to the JFNA and JCPA, including all four major religious streams, as well as dozens of local groups, signed the letter. It concluded with an appeal to maintain foreign assistance programs, generally and for Israel.

It was sent the same day that the JCPA hosted a "hunger seder" in Capitol Hill, one of more than 40 organized by Jewish groups across the United States that use the message of Passover and freedom to bolster support for programs that help feed the poor.

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