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Jewish charities want piece of the stimulus package

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 9, 2009 | 3:54 pm

The U.S. Senate is expected to approve that trillion-dollar stimulus plan tomorrow, and, as I’m sure you’ve heard, everyone is looking for their piece of the pie. (“Rule No. 1,” Rahm Emanuel said after becoming President Obama’s chief of staff, “never allow a crisis to go to waste.”) This includes Jewish charities that are looking to avoid more painful cuts to staff and services.

“The recession has pushed just about every other issue that we deal with in Washington to the sidelines,” said William Daroff, Washington representative of American Jewish federations’ umbrella group, United Jewish Communities. “This is the first-highest priority, the second-highest priority and the third-highest priority.”

Earlier this month, 60 Jewish leaders from around the country descended on Washington for a hastily organized emergency mission to lobby congressional leaders on the stimulus bill.

At the root of the problem are the state budgets that have declined as tax revenues and investments have plummeted. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank devoted to domestic budget issues, estimates that 46 states will not have enough money to cover their budgets this year and the next. In New York, the budget is set to run over by 25% in 2010; in California, the overrun will be 26% if things don’t change. Unlike the federal government, states are generally not allowed to run a deficit, and so the red pen has come out.

In the past few months alone, the crisis has already led to cuts that have seriously affected the services that Jewish agencies offer.

• In New York, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty laid off 11 staff members and cut out a program for homebound elderly that provided handyman services.

• In Palm Beach, Fla., the local newspaper reported that the Jewish federation cut from its budget 27 staff members and $2.8 million — both reductions of around 15%.

• In Boston, Jewish Family & Children’s Service ended its program for Russian-immigrant teenagers and eliminated one of its so-called naturally occurring retirement communities, which provided services to seniors so that they did not have to move into nursing homes.

These cuts come as the fundraising campaigns of the Jewish federations, which ended last December, raised less than they did in 2007, and endowments returned less. But the largest sources of funding for almost all Jewish agencies are the state and federal governments.

In Ohio, $117 million flows from the government to Jewish agencies around the state. Joyce Garver Keller, who deals with the state government on behalf of Ohio’s Jewish federations, just got the proposed state budget for 2010. She is bracing for nearly 20% cuts in government funding — a drop of $22 million. That will likely affect the state’s eight Jewish nursing homes, its Jewish day schools and the Holocaust memorial in Cincinnati, among other things. As she spoke to the Forward, Garver Keller took note of the stream of messages coming into her inbox, from people asking about the shortfalls.

“It’s sort of like there’s no place to run, no place to hide from this,” Garver Keller said. “It’s all you can do every morning to be positive.”

No surprises in this article from The Forward. I’ve been writing since July about the economic double-whammy for Jewish social service agencies. Madoff, obviously, only tightened the pressure these organizations were feeling. I referenced both these phenomenon in my article this week about the effort to recreate the L.A. Jewish federation. Jewish Family Service, which does great work and receives more state funding than any other Jewish organization, has been particularly pinched.

Here is the problem, though, that I have with social service agencies, schools, research institute and the like receiving anything from the stimulus package: While many are certainly worthy of public funding and unquestionably play important roles in society, they don’t have a lot to do with stimulating the economy.

“Too much of the so-called stimulus package is long-term growth and has little to do with the pathology that the US is suffering from right now,” Edward Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast, told me recently. “The biggest problem is the politicians got a hold of spending a trillion dollars and they went nuts. They have a whole list of things they want to spend money on. The National Science Foundation is included in this stimulus package. That is a good thing. It’s great for the long run, but it’s not a stimulus.”

“Lobbyists,” he added, “are just drooling over the opportunity to get some of this money.”

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