The air in these days in Sacramento -- while still hovering at a perfectly balmy Californian 79 degrees -- is rather bleak for agencies hoping to get government funding.
"You can feel that there is a different atmosphere in Sacramento. The budget obviously [has something to do with that], I think there is a lack of hope," said Barbara Yaroslavsky, the former chair of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee (JPAC).
Yaroslavsky was one of 150 Californians -- including students, activists and Jewish organization representatives -- who went to Sacramento this week for JPAC's annual mission to the state capital. JPAC, a single-state coalition of Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Federation, The Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Family Service and The Jewish Labor Committee, focuses on state policy important to the Jewish community.
"We monitor legislation throughout the year and we try to identify bills or resolutions that are of interest to the Jewish community and that are synched with the [date] that we come for this mission," said Michael Futterman, the current JPAC chairman. "In order to be effective, we can't talk about everything. We have to narrow it down to the issues where we think we can really make a difference."
This year, with budget cuts looming,participants were briefed on three issues at the forefront of JPAC's legislative agenda. The representatives were then sent forth as lobbyists-for-a-day to various state legislators to make their case.
The most complex lobbying issue of the day, and the only one that would actually require spending by the legislature, is JPAC's vehement opposition to a proposed weakening of the state's support for Adult Day Health Care (ADHS) programs and the Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP).
These two Medi-Cal funded programs, administered by such organizations as Jewish Family Service in Los Angeles, provide at-home care for frail and elderly Californians so they can avoid being institutionalized in nursing homes. Proposals emanating from the governor's office aim to cut funding for these programs by up to 15 percent and cap the number of patients they serve, according to JPAC.
JPAC sent participants to legislators armed with facts and figures. By delaying nursing home costs, ADHC can cost four times less than a typical nursing home over a month-long period. MSSP costs only 50 percent to 95 percent of the bill of a skilled nursing facility. The bottom line: keeping these programs funded actually saves the state money in the long run. To cut them would be "penny-wise and pound-foolish," went an oft-repeated phrase at the mission.
"What we need to do [here] is get the basic message across to legislators: don't abandon the frail and elderly, don't balance the budget on the backs of those who are less fortunate and who don't have a voice to speak," Futterman said. "We're here to speak on their behalf."
The other two issues at the mission would not cost the state a dime. Assembly Bill 1911, authored by Assemblyman Keith Richman, who spoke to the group on Tuesday, would reopen a recently closed California trade office in Israel. Twelve such offices around the world were closed when the California Trade and Commerce Agency was disbanded after budget cuts in 2003. The Israel office had one staffer and cost $60,000 to maintain, but was "credited with achieving worthwhile results." Richman and JPAC insist that the office can be reopened with private and other non-state funds and will bring jobs and cash into California.
JPAC's third issue focuses on supporting Assembly Joint Resolution 44, a statement that urges the California attorney general and state insurance commissioner to find legal methods of ensuring that insurance companies that do business in California pay all Holocaust-era insurance claims. The Supreme Court struck down a 1999 California law requiring this compliance because it was deemed as interference with U.S. foreign policy. AJR 44 also urges the U.S. Congress to act on this matter before elderly Holocaust survivors die.
It is no coincidence that very little actual spending is being advocated at this year's mission.
"I think the budget crisis these days in California is putting a damper on the process of advocating for [more] gut-wrenching issues," Yaroslavksy said. "The issues that we are advocating are very important, [and] it's very important to be up here to cultivate friends for future opportunities when there will be more money."
Lee Wallach of the Coalition on The Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California, a long-time JPAC mission participant, also noted that a lack of state money will make lobbying more difficult.
"These bills tend to focus on some of our primary issues in the community, [but] it's a very, very tough year with the budget as it is," Wallach said. "It's very difficult because we don't want anything to be cut in the way of social services."
Despite the budget woes in Sacramento, Yaroslavsky emphatically believes that grass-roots involvement will never lose its importance.
"We've got to bring in more people that want to really be involved, educate the community on how to get involved, why to be involved, and the door will start to open for more people to participate," she said.
"Relationships are enhanced through working with JPAC. The legislators see this organization as being a very powerful voice in the community," Wallach said.
The excitement was clearly running high as the crowd crossed the street from the hotel to meet with legislators.
"I've had really nothing but positive feedback from legislators. I think that they recognize we're not here looking to line our own pockets," Futterman said. "There's a lot of folks who come and prowl the halls of the state legislature looking for money, but we're here to represent those who really can't represent themselves, and that gives us a certain amount of moral authority and credibility as well."
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