A vote is expected Wednesday on the Senate version of the economic stimulus bill. Here’s the letter the United Jewish Communities sent to all 100 senators last Friday:
On behalf of United Jewish Communities (“UJC”), we applaud your efforts to address the economic downturn and look forward to the Senate’s passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The recession is proving catastrophic for the Jewish community and the broader nonprofit sector in which we participate. The deep needs for social services from those who are losing their jobs, houses, healthcare and even food for their tables are expanding exponentially. At the same time, relevant philanthropic and state-government funding streams have been sharply reduced.
As you know, UJC is the umbrella organization for 157 Jewish Federations and 400 independent communities across North America. Our network of federations, hospitals, aging and assisted living facilities, group homes, family service agencies, and vocational training programs provide a full continuum of care to over two million of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. While the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is commendable in many ways, it can be improved with the inclusion of the following five recommendations that we hope will be incorporated in this bill or others that you consider during the 111th Congress:
Medicaid and the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage Rate. We are pleased that you have included a temporary increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (“FMAP”), the funding stream that supports the Medicaid program, in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This would benefit each state immediately and is the best kind of fiscal relief to help avert painful state budget cuts and tax increases. With at least 45 states facing budget deficits that total more than $300 billion, we, along with noted economists and governors, believe that to have maximum impact the FMAP boost must be at least $100 billion. In addition, it is very important for the Senate to extend the Medicaid regulatory moratoriums through July 1, 2009. These regulations would have extremely negative consequences for the vulnerable clients we serve. While we favor full repeal of all six of these regulations, we realize that the Obama Administration needs time to review them.
Nonprofit Infrastructure. As an incubator of millions of jobs and purchasers of billions of dollars of goods and services, the nonprofit sector plays a critical role in the strength of the U.S. economy, accounting for approximately 10% of the GDP. Along with the public sector, nonprofit funding for infrastructure has been reduced while needs have increased. There are new shovel-ready infrastructure projects planned by 501(c)(3) organizations necessary to expand capacity or to better respond to this crisis. Governors, mayors, or their designees should have authority under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to use federal infrastructure funding to pay for such projects.
The Emergency Food and Shelter Program. The Senate version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would allocate $100 million in supplemental funding for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (“EFSP”). The EFSP provides supplemental funds to nearly 12,000 nonprofit and public social services agencies in more than 2,500 cities and counties across the country. With a national distribution system in place, the EFSP is primed to efficiently and effectively disburse additional needed resources to assist the unprecedented numbers of economically struggling families and individuals at risk of hunger and homelessness in America. For these reasons, we urge that the Senate match House support for the EFSP and include $200 million for the program.
The Social Services Block Grant. Over the past decade, annual funding for the Social Services Block Grant (“SSBG”) has been reduced from $2.8 billion to $1.7 billion. While the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes $400 million for SSBG, we urge you to fully restore funding for this critical program. This block grant, which is a flexible funding stream that provides assistance to cash-strapped states quickly and efficiently, funds a variety of services, including eldercare, meals, counseling, education and training, health, and housing services, all of which are tremendously impacted by the recession.
Charitable Incentives. In addition to restoring and growing funds for various human service programs, we urge you to use the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to enhance charitable tax incentives. Expenditures in this arena will help grow the economy out of the recession at the same time it helps to subsidize new demands placed on charities. Examples of such charitable giving tax incentives include: expansion of the current law IRA charitable rollover to include unlimited gifts to qualified charities, including donor advised funds; increasing or eliminating the adjusted gross income limitation on gifts to qualified charities; extending the carryover period for charitable deductions; increasing the volunteer auto expense reimbursement amount; and providing an above-the-line deduction for charitable gifts for individuals who do not itemize their deductions.
United Jewish Communities is grateful for your consideration of these recommendations for inclusion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. We feel that they are vital in shoring up America’s social safety net and helping states, localities and your most needy constituents and our clients recover from economic catastrophe. We deeply appreciate your consideration of these pressing matters and are glad to work with you to accomplish our mutual goals of helping the economically vulnerable in our country at this time of national crisis.
William C. Daroff
Vice President for Public Policy & Director of the Washington Office