Vice President Joe Biden announced a new White House effort to aid aging Holocaust survivors living in poverty in the United States.
Speaking on Dec. 10 at a luncheon in Washington, D.C., Biden said the Obama Administration will appoint a special envoy at the Department of Health and Human Services to act as a liaison for Holocaust survivors and the nonprofit community organizations that serve this vulnerable population.
“This will make the government more responsive to a Hungarian survivor in the Bronx who needs a wheelchair or the elderly woman with memories of the Warsaw Ghetto who needs a ride to the doctor,” Biden told attendees of a luncheon celebrating the 100th anniversary of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), according to a transcript obtained by The Journal.
The White House will also establish a partnership between community organizations and the AmeriCorps VISTA program, so that some of the 8,000 volunteers taking part in that federally funded program can work to aid Holocaust survivors. Biden also pledged to explore possible public-private partnerships to address funding shortfalls impacting the community organizations serving Holocaust survivors.
An estimated 120,000 Holocaust survivors live in the United States today; three-quarters are over 75 years old and two-thirds live alone. Many survivors saw their families decimated in Europe during the Holocaust, leaving them with few relatives to rely upon in their old age.
The new initiative comes after years of conversations between the White House, members of Congress, and representatives of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and Jewish Family and Children’s Service agencies about ways to mitigate the ongoing plight of aging survivors.
Michael Siegal, chair of JFNA's board of trustees, welcomed Biden’s announcement.
“Today our country took a major step forward toward addressing the needs of many Holocaust survivors,” Siegal said in a statement. “We are looking forward to working with the Special Envoy to raise awareness and help ensure that Holocaust survivors receive the support of programs to help them live with dignity and comfort.”
Biden also told attendees at the JDC luncheon that the U.S. remained committed to counteracting efforts to delegitimize Israel.
"The preservation of an independent Jewish state is the only certain guarantor of freedom and security for the Jewish people," Biden said, according to CBS News.