Jewish Journal

Agencies Survive Budget Battle

State funding reduced but Jewish social service organizations to continue programs. Sova, Mazon, Project Chicken Soup among organizations who feed L.A.'s needy.

by Mike Levy

Posted on Sep. 12, 2002 at 8:00 pm

For Jewish community-affiliated agencies that receive money from the state, the last two months of past-deadline legislative wrangling over the budget has been a nail-biting time, with some organizations awaiting word on half or more of their annual funding.

"We've gotten by without severe cuts to this point," said Jessica Toledano, director of government relations for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC).

For Jewish agencies that rely on state general fund dollars, it is clear that the waiting game has just begun. State Controller Kathleen Connell has predicted multibillion dollar deficits next year. In addition, the new budget relies on billions of dollars from the federal government, which in the past have failed to materialize. That may force legislators to cut money currently scheduled for both Jewish and non-Jewish community services.

"Over a period of 30-40 years, many of the agencies created by the Jewish community have become reliant on public dollars, because the state has recognized that they can offer a quality service," said Federation President John Fishel.

Some of the services offered by Jewish agencies will be hit harder than others in the current budget. Among the hardest hit is the youTHink program by the Zimmer Discovery Children's Museum of the Jewish Community Centers.

The youTHink program, which uses the arts to teach social issues, did not receive the $750,000 it requested from the state. The request represented approximately half of the program's annual budget.

Esther Netter, the Zimmer's executive director, remained hopeful that the program will find the money it needs to continue its programs, but said she understands why the funding was cut. "They're trying to deal with the most critical needs of the state," she said, "They can hardly deal with extras."

JCRC's Toledano said they are already searching for ways to fund the youTHink program.

Not every Jewish organization lost out in the new state budget. "The Museum of Tolerance seems to withstand a lot of the pressure on the budget," said Rabbi Meyer May, the museum's executive director.

The museum will continue to receive its annual $2 million allocation for police officer diversity training, as well as funding for teacher training and major exhibits. May said the museum's programs are "not in danger at all." However, he expressed concern for alternative education and arts programs like youTHink that are endangered by the lack of state funds.

For now, most Jewish service agencies, like other social service agencies across the state, will find themselves somewhere in the middle, with funding reduced, but not so sharply that programs will be cut. Jewish Family Services (JFS), which contracts with Los Angeles to provide a number of programs to clients in the city, is one such organization.

According to Paul Castro, JFS executive director, "There are not cuts so significant that they will impair our bottom-line ability to serve clients." Though JFS will receive less money from the state for service programs such as Linkages, which helps elderly and disabled adults live independently, Castro said that, "ultimately, we can live with it."

The Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) does not receive a large sum from the state, but it does rely on state vocational rehabilitation counselors to refer some of its most needy clients. The state counselors will have less money to spend on serving clients, so JVS said it expects to serve fewer people. "When funds are reduced, clients just sit on a waiting list; the ones on the waiting list are the most employable, the ones with the least severe disabilities," explained Vivian Seigel, JVS CEO.

Jewish organizations said the budget funding could have been worse, but they fear that it might still deteriorate further. This year, lobbying efforts made the Jewish community's priorities known. In May, more than 200 Jewish activists gathered in Sacramento for the annual lobbying mission of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee (JPAC), a coalition of Jewish community organizations.

Led by JPAC chair Barbara Yaroslavsky, the lobbying mission focused on four legislative priorities. One , the Linkages program, will face some reduction in funding.

A second program on the JPAC list, the Naturalization Services Program that assists legal immigrants in obtaining U.S. citizenship, retained nearly all of its $8 million allocation.

Two legislative actions sought by the lobbying group passed. The Hate Crimes Victims Justice Act, which limits lengthy continuances in cases involving hate crimes, stalking or career criminals, passed in the Assembly and Senate unanimously. A resolution expressing solidarity with Israel also passed unanimously the day after JPAC's lobbying mission.

State money for Jewish agencies does not go to programs specifically serving Jews. Jewish service agencies contract with local governments to serve Jews and non-Jews in need. When they lose funding, the Jewish community loses what Yaroslavsky calls "a wonderful vehicle for developing relationships with other communities."

Jewish service agencies fear that people in need will lose services like medical and mental health care, educational opportunities and job training. "You either raise taxes or cut services. There's no magic potion," said Scott Svonkin, who watches the state budget as B'nai B'rith's public policy chairman and as chief of staff to Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-W. Hollywood). "While this year was very difficult," he said, "we still face challenges next year. Fortunately for the Jewish community, we have a friend in the governor's mansion."

Friends in the Legislature and in the governor's mansion will be important because, as Svonkin said, "Basically, the same choices will be on the table next year."

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