Focus on Issues: Study Shows Jewish Agencies Highly Dependent on Government
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Focus on Issues: Study Shows Jewish Agencies Highly Dependent on Government

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Reeling from a study showing heavier than expected dependence on government funding, Jewish federations across the country are gearing up for a fight to save their nursing homes, social service agencies and hospitals.

Planned congressional budget cuts to social welfare programs would eviscerate Jewish services nationwide and threaten the entire federation system, according to the Council of Jewish Federations.

Jewish communal agencies receive more than $3.67 billion from federal, state and local governments, representing about 41 percent of their local budgets, according to a CJF survey of 45 federations released last week.

“The federated system is about to confront a crisis that will test our leadership as never before,” said Richard Wexler, chairman of the CJF’s Community Planning and Financial Resource Development Steering Committee.

“No longer can the Jewish community adopt a `wait and see’ attitude,” he said as he presented the report to the CJF executive committee meeting last week in Detroit.

“It’s too late for that,” he said. “We must recognize the emergency and deal with it now.”

Diana Aviv, the director of the CJF’s Washington action office, which prepared the report, said she was “shocked, a agog and startled when numbers came in.”

“I had bought in to the myth that we provide for our own,” she said, but, in fact, the Jewish community is deeply dependent on government funds.

Although officials admit that the numbers are shocking, they are quick to point out that more than two-third of the $3.67 billion goes to Jewish-supported hospitals in the form of Medicaid and Medicare payments.

But the planned federal budget cuts would hit most Jewish charities extraordinarily hard.

Federations and their agencies in the 45 communities on which the survey is based receive $1.08 billion a year for services outside of hospitals.

About half of those funds support Jewish nursing homes, with the remainder going to agencies that serve Jewish individuals and families in need.

Without this money, officials say, many federations would have to scale back or, in some cases, eliminate services including food, clothing, child care and vocational services for the needy.

Charities across the country are grappling with similar concerns as lawmakers in Washington move to cut back on an array of social welfare programs.

The Republican majority in Congress has vowed to balance the budget in seven years without cutting Social Security or the defense budget.

In order to reach that goal, many federal programs will face cuts of 25 percent to 75 percent, if they receive any funding at all, according to the study.

But few social services agencies are as dependent on government dollars as those affiliated with the Jewish community. Whereas most not-for-profit agencies receive an average of 35 percent of their budgets from government sources, the Jewish community receives about 41 percent, according to the study.

That figure excludes money for hospitals as well as services in New York City, whose UJA-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, ranks as the largest recipient of government funds in the Jewish community.

The New York federation receives $2.45 billion a year, reflecting 62 percent of its budget.

As large as the numbers are, the actual dependence on government dollars “could be two times higher” than the study reflects, said Diana Aviv.

Some funds, through welfare programs such as Supplemental Security Income, go directly to recipients who spend much of it on services provided by Jewish charities, she said.

The survey only analyzed government dollars going directly to federations or their constituent agencies.

Jewish officials also caution that many states match federal contributions. If the federal budgets are cut, many states are expected to follow suit, thereby increasing the overall loss of government funds.

In addition, the study only includes government dollars to hospitals and nursing homes that receive allocations from their local federations.

Most Jewish-supported agencies serve Jews as well as non-Jews, but the overwhelming bumber of beneficiaries are Jewish, officials say.

Federations estimate that more than 70 percent of those who seek help are Jewish. In some communities, officials say more than 90 percent of service recipients are Jewish.

Government regulations prevent some service providers from tracking the religion or ethnicity of their clientele.

Among the agencies that would be most affected are the federation-supported Jewish vocational services, which receive $135 million in governments funds, 77 percent of their budgets, and the Jewish family service agencies, which receive about $134 million a year, representing 61 percent of their budgets.

In New York, the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services gets 82 percent of its $80 million annual budget from public sources, said Paul Levine, the agency’s associate executive vice president.

The New York agency is the largest not-for-profit mental health and social service provider in the country, according to an agency spokeswoman.

Many factors contribute to the fact that the Jewish community receives more government funds on average than other not-for-profits.

According to Aviv, the higher funding levels are a result of the disproportionately large share of older Jews among the American Jewish population.

“Most services to elderly are cash heavy,” Aviv said, referring to Medicaid, Medicare and other government-funded social service programs.

Aviv also said the greater contributions are a result of the Jewish community’s inherent success in winning government grants and dollars.

In addition, federal refugee resettlement programs add to the coffers of Jewish agencies.

Although the actual refugee programs feed only about $46 million per year into the Jewish communal system, refugees can access other federal monies for services the federations and their agencies provide.

And even though they hope to stave off some federal cutbacks, federations will face a choice in the coming years, according to the report: Cut back services or raise more money.

Federation leaders are alarmed at the prospect of facing such a stark choice.

In Chicago, “there is no possible way the community can make up these loses,” said Joel Carp, senior vice president of community services and government relations at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

Excluding Medicaid and Medicare payments to the federation – assisted hospital, Carp estimates that his federation would suffer a $7.3 million budget shortfall if the proposed cuts pass Congress.

“We’re not talking about paying light bills. There are direct services to people,” Carp said.

“The impact cannot be overstated,” he added. “We will not be able to take care of Jews who will walk into the Chicago federation and say, `We’re hungry and need food.'”

“This is a clarion call to the American Jewish community that our interest in the budget is not a matter of partisan politics,” Aviv said. “It’s a matter of dollars and cents to the federation system.”

Wexler voiced similar sentiments.

The study “is not a matter of politics; it is not hyperbole,” he said. “It is a matter of community survival.”

With this is mind, the CJF is urging local federations to start preparing an aggressive campaign aimed at local, state and federal officials.

As Congress continues to shift more and more resources directly to the states in the form of block grants, local activism has taken on increased importance.

CJF officials are urging federations to step up lobbying and participation at the state level.

“Federations must ensure that communal lay leaders serve on appropriate commissions, oversight boards and committees responsible for the distribution of funds to community groups,” the report urges.

The CJF is also urging local federations to use the study as a tool to convince social service agencies to “make changes that they have long resisted and find new ways to deliver services more efficiently,” according to the report.

While activists are planning strategies for local and state advocacy, much attention remains focused on Capitol Hill.

Much of the impact on the Jewish community depends on how Congress reforms the Medicare and Medicaid systems.

House Republicans recently unveiled plans to scale back programs and automatically cut payments to care providers if savings targets are not met.

Both Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) have promised to pass such reforms this fall. Both plan to keep Congress in session until they achieve this goal.

Meanwhile, the CJF plans to continue to work on the survey.

“This is a work in progress,” Aviv said.

The CJF sent surveys to all 189 federations in the United States last spring. Although 59 communities responded, the results of the survey reflect only 45 communities, including all 17 large federations, due to incomplete information provided by some.

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