Jewish Services in Crisis (part 4): with Budget Ax Ready to Fall, Which Programs Will Be Losers?
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Jewish Services in Crisis (part 4): with Budget Ax Ready to Fall, Which Programs Will Be Losers?

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As the federal budget ax dangles over the nation’s capital, Jewish charities are bracing for devastating cuts.

Although the ax is likely to spare two of the community’s most prized programs, resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union and housing of elderly Jews, the hatchet will not be as kind to scores of other large-scale projects that serve the Jewish elderly and the poor.

With the budget battle still unresolved – and possibly even on hold as the election season heats up – there are many uncertainties about the actual impact that the Washington revolution will have on the Jewish social service world.

Dozens of Jewish communities that receive grants ranging from $1,000 to $1000,000 stand to lose money as competition for fewer dollars continues to grow.

It is widely expected that federations, already forced to reduce their allocations to local agencies, will eventually be asked to step in to provide services once paid for with government money.

As the extensive network of Jewish agencies gears up for the inevitable changes, a hard look at the numbers is in order.

Which Jewish programs now receive the most public dollars? Which programs are safe? Which are threatened?

The Jewish federated system receives at least $3.67 billion from government programs, representing at least 56 percent of their budgets, according to a Council of Jewish Federations study.

The vast majority of those funds – more than $3.13 billion – goes to Jewish- sponsored hospitals and nursing homes through Medicare and Medicaid payments.

Excluding Medicare and Medicaid and other health-care money for hospitals and nursing homes, the Jewish federated system receives about $532 million a year in public funds, according to the CJF study. This total includes federal moneys as well as state and local assistance.

The UJA. Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York receives the lion’s share of this money – about $386 million. The remaining $146 million is channeled to other local communities.

The primary programs receiving federal funds are: * low-income elderly housing; * services for seniors; * support services for families and children; * vocational training and nutrition programs; and * resettlement of Jewish refugees. Bulk of funds through Medicaid

Reforming Medicare, which provides health care for the elderly, and Medicaid, which serves the poor and disabled, is still the focus of heated discussions between the White House and Congress. Virtually all observers expect lawmakers to curb the growth of the programs, but just how much yet to be determined.

As the American Jewish population ages, changes in the Medicare and Medicaid systems could profoundly affect Jewish-supported nursing homes and hospitals.

About 1 million Jews older than 65 live in the United States, making up about 18 percent of the American Jewish population, according to the CJF. The elderly make up about 13 percent of the general U.S. population.

More than 70 percent of the 25,000 Jews in nursing homes run by Jewish agencies across the country rely on Medicaid to pay the costs of their stay.

Jewish agencies run about 100 nursing homes in the United States. An additional 130 facilities that provide housing for the elderly receive other government subsidies.

Jewish officials are concerned that current proposals to turn Medicaid over to the states to run with a fixed budget would jeopardize the poorest and most vulnerable Americans.

Under current law, anyone who falls below a preset income level qualifies for Medicaid, which is known as an entitlement, and is guaranteed services. New proposals would eliminate entitlements, placing a cap on available funds.

“If Medicaid loses its entitlement status there would be dire consequences,” said Diana Aviv, director of the CJF’s Washington office. “Federations would not have the money to step in is states run out of money.” Elderly housing funds in flux

While nursing homes receive payments directly from Medicare and Medicaid, other elderly housing programs receive separate federal funding.

After an early flirtation with massive cutbacks to low-income elderly housing projects and their support services, Congress and the administration appear to have agreed to fund the program near its current level.

Through two federal programs, elderly housing projects sponsored by Jewish federation give thousands of low-income, predominantly Jewish seniors across the country a place to live.

In New York City, the programs also fund Jewish-sponsored low-income housing units.

B’nai B’rith runs an additional 30 facilities, housing more than 5,000 residents.

Outside of New York, these Jewish facilities expect to receive full federal funding for at least the next five years to the tune of $40 million a year. New York City receives at least an additional $100 million for such housing programs, according to federation officials in New York.

But concerns remain.

Congress has not provided funds for new construction at a time when waiting lists to get into these facilities continue to grow. Nonhousing services for seniors

Federation agencies outside of New York receive more than $4 million through the Older Americans Act, which funds a variety of programs for the elderly, including but service to doctors and hot meals for the homebound.

In New York, the federation receives tens of millions more to run elderly programs.

Initial plans to cut the $1.4 billion program faltered when Republicans and Democrats rallied to fund the program close to its current level.

Local agencies apply for grants through their local or state governments. Known as block grants, the federal government gives one lump sum to state and local governments to disperse with great latitude. Many states add their own funds to supplement the federal funds. Jewish Family Services at risk

Among the agencies most at risk of losing precious government dollars in Jewish Family and Children’s Services. The 139 Jewish Family agencies across the United States annually spend $134 million in government funds, fully 61 percent of the total spent at these agencies.

Most of the money, from federal, state and local sources, comes from Federal Emergency Management Administration grants.

The exact amount of federal contributions is unknown because local and state governments run the programs and frequently add their own funds to the money coming from Capitol Hill, said Bert Goldberg, executive vice president of the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies.

Jewish Family Services provides a range of services. They counsel families with intermarried parents, run widow support groups, help divorced and separated parents and their children, and help low-income clients pay heating bills and buy food during times of economic crisis.

Jewish Family Services also counsels refugees, but those moneys come from resettlement program funds.

Officials estimate that the clientele of Jewish Family Services is at least 85 percent Jewish. Jewish vocational services

Congress and the White House have yet to come to terms on legislation through which the Jewish Vocational Services gain access to its federal money. Pending measure would cut spending, and Congress hopes to fold 100 current programs into three block grants.

Almost 77 percent, or $135 million, of vocational services sponsored by Jewish communities comes from the federal government. If the plans now making their way through Congress become law, vocational services would face 7 percent to 15 percent cut in federal dollars used for adult and youth job training programs and for vocational adult education, CJF officials estimate. Refugees likely to be spared

Yet while most other federal programs are facing cuts and restructuring, programs serving Jewish refugees, primarily from the former Soviet Union, are likely to receive more federal dollars this year.

Federations and their agencies received more than $46 million in 1994 and $32 million in 1995 to resettle Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union. About half of that goes to the New York area, where the majority of these refugees settle.

About 23,000 Jewish refugees arrived in the United States in 1995, including 276 from Iran.

Three federal programs combine to aid refugees when they come to the United States. The programs are funded primarily through the Department of State and the Department of Health and Services.

Local Jewish communities then add their own funds to aid the resettlement efforts, which include job-training programs, English-language classes and cash assistance for housing, food and clothing.

Although final legislation has yet to emerge from Congress, officials at the Hebrew Immigrate Aid Society, which coordinates the resettlement of refugees for the Jewish community, expect an increase in the amount of money the federal government gives for the resettlement of refugees.

As a result of that increase and the expected decrease in the number of refugees coming to the United States, HIAS expects to spend more on each refugee this year than last.

There are fear, however, that welfare reform, which is also a hot political topic, could jeopardize many refugees’ access to sustained assistance once their initial benefits run out.

Many refugees, after exhausting the assistance programs, cannot find work …and turn to welfare for cash assistance and health care. Nutrition programs get a boost

Federation agencies receive nearly $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for nutrition programs, at Jewish day schools, day care and senior facilities. The grants fund milk purchases and school lunches. Additional money comes from emergency food grants.

Congress actually increased the amount of money for USDA grants, and most Jewish schools and agencies expect to receive the same amount of money, if not more, this year. Other programs in jeopardy

Jewish agencies receive millions more in public funds that they risk losing as a result of the federal budget cuts. Some of these funds, not calculated in the CJF study, come from clients who are paying with welfare money.

CJF officials anticipate at least a 10 percent cut down the road in these federal dollars.

These programs span the gamut of federal programs.

In Chicago, for example, the federation oversees about $100,000 a year from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for emergency food and shelter.

Through the program, federation agencies in Chicago deliver 4,000 meals a year to homebound Jewish seniors and other needy individuals, 87,000 grocery packages from foods pantries, countless onetime housing payments to prevent evictions as well as urgent utility payments during deadly cold winters.

Many of these programs are slated to be turned over to state and local governments to administer through block grants, a situation that could force the Jewish community into a new round of competition with its coalition partners.

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