Jewish Journal


February 10, 2005

Super Sunday Seeks to Top $4.5 Million



On Feb. 13, an estimated 1,600 volunteers will place thousands of phone calls to community members with the hopes of making this the most Super Sunday ever.

Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn will inaugurate the daylong fundraising drive at 9:30 a.m. at the headquarters of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in Mid-Wilshire. Actor Josh Molina of TV's "West Wing" will be on hand to show his support.

Like their counterparts at Federation headquarters, volunteers at the New JCC at Milken in West Hills and at the Torrance Marriott in Torrance will try to top last year's total of $4.5 million. Between phone pitches for donations, participants at all three locations will share food, laughter and perhaps even a little gossip amid the hard work.

But don't be fooled by the festivities. More is at stake this Super Sunday than ever before.

Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) and Jewish Family Service (JFS), two of the Southland's largest nonprofits that minister to the poor and the elderly, have seen demand for services surge at a time when government funding has dropped. L.A. County's recent cutbacks combined with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed state budget bode poorly for both agencies, which also rely on The Federation for substantial funding. A strong Super Sunday and the extra money generated by the fundraiser could mean the difference between saving or reviving struggling programs or eliminating them, agency executives said.

"There's a belief from Washington, Sacramento and the county that community agencies and faith-based organizations will pick up the slack created by the cut in government dollars. But the dollars just aren't there," said Claudia Finkel, JVS chief operating officer. "Super Sunday is our one golden opportunity to reach out to the local Jewish community to help them understand what our needs are."

Or, in the words of Craig Prizant, Federation executive vice president of financial resource development: "We need to raise more money to fill in the gaps."

JVS' needs are substantial. Last year, JVS lost nearly $1 million in government money, almost 20 percent of its total budget.

Recently, the agency learned that the state would no longer fund a program that helped keep at-risk high-school students in school and out of jail and gangs. A truly super Super Sunday could help JVS revive that program, as well as a recently eliminated one that helped immigrants and refugees older than 60 develop basic language and other skills to help them transition from welfare to work, Finkel said.

Like JVS, JFS has fallen on tough times, too. Although the agency has escaped the kinds of deep cuts that have beset other nonprofits, JFS had to eliminate the equivalent of seven positions and scale back some services because of flat funding, coupled with increased health care, liability insurance and pension costs.

The agency also faces up to a $125,000 shortfall for a homeless shelter that houses 57 people in 15 apartments in the Mid-Wilshire District. If JFS cannot raise that money by summer, the nonprofit might have to reduce such client services as counseling or in-house child care, explained Paul Castro, JFS executive director.

As bad as those problems are, Castro said the fallout from the governor's proposed budget would be worse. If passed, the state would slash welfare grants by 6.5 percent and require thousands of seniors, indigent and disabled individuals to begin paying monthly Medi-Cal premiums of $4 per child, $10 per adult and a maximum of $27 per family.

On the surface, such recommendations might seem reasonable in light of California's budget deficit. However, Castro said they could cause tremendous financial pain to a group of people who now just barely get by.

The JFS director said he worried that such reductions would lead to a surge in demand at the SOVA food pantry and for JFS hotel and grocery vouchers. Without an infusion of cash, Castro said, JFS might have to take such unpalatable steps as giving out smaller bags of food or reducing the value of vouchers.

Castro said the enactment of the governor's budget would also put a strain on his social workers. He said a Medi-Cal provision calling for new participants who are elderly, blind and disabled to enroll in HMO plans could prove disastrous. That's because such vulnerable populations have great difficulty advocating for their medical needs. Out of frustration, they might simply drop out of the system, Castro said.

If they do, many of them will turn up at JFS five senior service centers seeking help in "navigating the system," finding doctors and getting prescriptions filled. To address those needs, Castro said he'd have to hire up to 10 social workers at a cost of at least $500,000. In the absence of that money, he said JFS would have a hard time meeting the new demand and that some of the frailest elderly might simply give up all together and end up in nursing homes or worse.

The governor's budget proposal said managed care saves money and increases patient services and access.

Despite the grim picture, a strong Super Sunday could alleviate the pain of JVS, JFS and other Jewish agencies.

"Super Sunday won't fix the health care system, but it can make a big difference in people's lives," Castro said.


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