Triple Threat


When an elderly immigrant client walked into the offices of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush this week, she was told the case worker who was to attend a city benefits hearing with her would not be able to do so.

The worker has been laid off, one of seven employees at the agency affected by a 20 percent cut in city funding.

In all, the COJO, which helps thousands of poor, elderly, immigrant and unemployed Flatbush residents (many falling into more than one of those categories) make ends meet, lost $388,000 when the city slashed spending to prevent a soaring budget deficit this year.

“A whole cadre of programs, in diverse areas has been affected,” said the COJO’s executive

director, Rabbi Yechezkel Pikus, who was recently forced to close a program offering free legal assistance.

But even as he struggles to maintain services with less city money, Rabbi Pikus, like hundreds of other leaders of nonprofits across the state, is bracing himself for a second shockwave.

Gov. David Paterson announced this week that New York State might be in for the biggest fiscal crisis since the 1970s, suffering, like New York City, from declining Wall Street revenues. (Conservatives blame overspending more than the poor economy for the current mess.) He said the budget deficit had risen by $1.4 billion in the short time he has been in office.

On Tuesday Paterson called for help from legislative and union leaders to cut spending.
“The faster we address this crisis, the faster and better we will emerge from it,” said Paterson. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

The crisis will mean a reduction in the state workforce and cuts in city services at a time when more people are out of work and struggling with the effects of a national recession. The state Senate majority leader, Dean Skelos, called for a mandatory state spending cap in order to avoid increased taxes to make up the shortfall.
Any way you slice it, that means a smaller pie for nonprofits.

“I don’t know how it’s going to play itself out,” says Rabbi Pikus, “but we could be looking at another $150,000 [loss] if they don’t give out any more member items.”
That’s the total of grants given to the COJO by the various Assembly members and senators who represent the agency’s territory.

That would likely mean the end, or severe curtailment, of the COJO’s employment and business outreach center, employment programs and other services, because the city funding allows the agency to leverage more private dollars.

“Invariably it’s going to have a devastating effect on many not-for-profits coming at a time when the economy is bad and the private sector is not contributing as significantly as it has in the past,” Rabbi Pikus says.

The COJO already has a massive fundraising effort, mostly by direct mail, to pay for a camp scholarship program and Passover food distribution. Asking for more from the same donor base may be impractical, said the rabbi.

The crunch is being felt everywhere. The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty has already lost $2.5 million in program dollars while Agudath Israel of America lost more than $700,000. And leaders know the worst may be yet to come.

“The provision of health and human services has been reduced significantly, and will be even more so over the next 12-24 months,” said Ron Soloway, managing director for government and external relations at UJA-Federation of New York, which saw a reduction of about $3 million in the city budget cuts. “We are worried about the financial situation on all three levels of government. Even if Wall Street goes up and the economy gets better it would take 12-24 months for capital gains to be paid.”
Soloway said the next two years will likely have at least as significant an impact on social services as the recession of the early 1990s.

While UJA-Federation’s campaign last year was at a record high, much of the fundraising took place before the effects of the recession kicked in.
“As much as we hope to do very well [next year] there is no guarantee, and you can’t spend in anticipation of money we may not get.”n

One of the biggest battles for a City Council seat may commence half a year early if Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder succeeds in his quest for a state Senate seat this fall.
That would mean a special election to fill his Borough Park/Flatbush seat in February 2009, months before the citywide September primary.

If that’s the case, David Greenfield has the upper hand because he has already raised the maximum amount allowed in the entire election, $175,000. With matching funds he can spend $161,000 each on the special election and primary. “If I win, I won’t have to raise money again until 2013,” says Greenfield, who is currently executive director of the Sephardic Community Federation. He has Felder’s backing for the seat.

But Joe Lazar, who has banked about $115,000, says he’s essentially maxed out for a special election, too. “I certainly am working as if the election were tomorrow. If we have an election in February I’m more than ready to hit the streets.” Lazar is currently a consultant working to integrate programs from the New York Association for New Americans into other Jewish organization before NYANA closes its doors. Lazar has the backing of Assemblyman Dov Hikind and other elected officials, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Felder faces incumbent Kevin Parker and Councilman Kendall Stewart in the September Senate primary for a Flatbush Senate seat.