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A Wish Is Granted

Jewish Family Service receives $500,000 to help Fairfax and West Hollywood seniors.

by Marc Ballon

February 27, 2003 | 7:01 pm

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Jewish Family Service (JFS) have received the first federally funded grant in California for so-called naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs), places where a majority of the population is over 55.

JFS, which collaborated with the Federation in a year-long lobbying effort to land the money, will use the $500,000 to provide support services to clusters of seniors living in the Fairfax area and West Hollywood.

"This is a significant victory for the community, especially in these tough economic times," said Paul Castro, JFS executive director.

As their physical and mental capabilities diminish, many seniors living at home must grapple with myriad problems, ranging from balancing their checkbooks to flipping their mattresses to finding a ride to the supermarket.

Often to frail to adequately take care of themselves, they nonetheless continue living in their homes after the children leave for fear of losing their independence and ending up in nursing homes. Even healthy seniors generally prefer staying among friends in their old neighborhoods as long as possible.

NORCs have cropped up around the country, with an estimated 5,000 now dotting the U.S. As the population grays -- an estimated 75 million Americans will be over 55 in 2010 -- the number of NORCs is expected to jump, said Andrew Kochera, senior policy advisor at AARP in Washington.

To better provide services for the people residing in them, the federal government has awarded 18 grants worth nearly $10 million to 15 Jewish Federations in the past seven months. And in late February, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and JFS were awarded their grant.

"This is really the wave of the future for senior care," said Jessica Toledano, the Federation's director of government relations. "There's a huge need for this."

JFS, which the Federation partially funds, will spend the grant money to improve the lives of local seniors. JFS plans to identify what seniors might most benefit from NORC support services and then begin providing them within six months, said Castro, agency executive director. Programs under consideration include home-delivered meals, transportation to and from doctor offices and grocery stores and taxi vouchers.

All seniors living in JFS-designated NORCs in the Fairfax area and West Hollywood, regardless of income levels, would qualify for support services.

JFS has a proven record of providing vital services to needy seniors, said Perri Sloane Goodman, director of state programs for the agency. The Multipurpose Senior Services Program has, since 1980, provided frail, indigent elderly men and women with an array of services ranging from taxi vouchers to home-meal preparation to keep them out of nursing homes.

A growing number of politicians favor funding NORC support services partly because of economics, said Diana Aviv, vice president for public policy at the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group for the nation's federations. She estimates that nursing home care costs $55,000 annually per person, while senior housing with special services is $20,000. By contrast, NORC support services cost about $5,000, Aviv said.

One of the reasons why the UJC has become involved in seeking funding for NORCs is because of demographic trends in the Jewish community. Whereas 11 percent of the general population is 65 or older, 19 percent of Jews are, Aviv said.

UJC will continue going after NORC funding "as long as our communities are interested in it," she added.

Funding for NORCs dates back nearly two decades, although federal support is still relatively recent and small.

The first support services for NORCs began in New York City in 1986. Less than a decade later, in 1994, the New York State Legislature supported 14 NORC programs. Five years later, the City Council in New York City allocated millions of dollars to expand the program.

In the Big Apple, services for the elderly inhabiting NORCs ranged from social worker home visits to cat sitting and plant watering for wealthy seniors near Lincoln Center, said Fredda Vladeck, director of the United Hospital Fund's Aging in Place Initiative.

Last August, the federal government got into the act by allocating $3.7 million to five Jewish federations, including Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Seven months later, the government awarded 13 grants totaling almost $6 million, including the stipend to Los Angeles.

Each federation receiving federal funds individually lobbied legislators for money. Among others, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Van Nuys) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Los Angeles) championed local NORC funding, the Federation's Toledano said. The Boston, New York and Richmond, Va. Federations all failed in their bids to land NORC money. 

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