UJC Now Lobbying for Universal Health Care

By Nathan Guttman

Published July 08, 2009, issue of July 17, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

One of the largest and most influential Jewish groups has signed on for the first time in support of universal health care in the United States.

United Jewish Communities, an umbrella group for local Jewish federations, pushed its members to lobby over the July 4 weekend for health care reform that would provide universal coverage. In talking points sent out to federation activists, and to members of local Jewish community relations committees, activists were urged to tell their elected officials that “any health care reform effort should ensure that every individual and family has access to qualified medical professionals and providers for their care, regardless of income or other barriers.”

While a number of other Jewish organizations in Washington have long lobbied for universal health care, the federations traditionally viewed health care reform through their own prism, as owners of hospitals and senior care facilities. As such, the federations and their national advocacy efforts historically focused more narrowly on ensuring government funding for these programs, regardless of the issue of universal accessibility to health care.

Last May, though, UJC decided to sign on to a joint statement with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, dedicating both groups to lobbying for universal health care based on the “moral mandate from our Jewish tradition” and on their experience as health care service providers.

“Now people are working together for both causes: universal health care and funding for health care services,” said Hadar Susskind, vice president of public policy and Washington director of the JCPA. Susskind, who was involved in the negotiations that led to signing the joint statement, said, “We see it as a fundamental issue that will make the federation system involved in the broader issue of reforming health care.”

UJC is so important because it represents 157 federations and 400 independent communities that raise and distribute more than $3 billion each year. It is the largest provider of social services in the Jewish community, and as such it is the key organization dealing with government funding for community-based services.

UJC is wading slowly into the waters. William Daroff, UJC’s vice president of public policy, did not acknowledge that the recent lobbying represents a major change, although he did recognize that his mandate has been broadened because of the new cooperation with the JCPA on health care reform.

“I don’t think this is a shift. It is smart politics,” Daroff said. “We want to be inside the tent for these discussions because of their critical importance for the Jewish community.”

During the lobbying weekend, UJC gave local Jewish activists a push to promote current federation programs alongside a broader change that would enable universal health care for Americans. UJC told its lobbyists also to focus on Medicare and Medicaid funding, which are crucial for Jewish nursing homes and old-age facilities.

One potential sticking point for UJC is the Obama administration’s plan to decrease tax deductions on charitable giving for high-income individuals. The change has been proposed as a way of securing funding for an overhaul of the health care system but UJC has argued strenuously against it.

Daroff would not say if the group would part ways with the JCPA on health care if its concerns, mainly those regarding charitable tax deductions, are not met. Current versions of health care legislation do not include the measure, but it is too early in the legislative process to know what the final language will contain.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and a longtime supporter of universal health care, said he believed that all Jewish groups hold strong views on the need for an accessible health care system.

“I’d be surprised if any Jewish group would back off because of any particular interest,” he said.

Saperstein spoke after an interfaith lobbying day July 7, during which leaders of 15 faith groups spoke with legislators and administration officials in support of universal health care. Among the attendees were representatives of many Jewish groups that are actively advocating for passage of health care reform. Saperstein believes that this turnout proves how important the issue is viewed within the community.

“Health care reform will not happen without the political drumbeat for the absolute moral commitment, and the Jewish community is important in determining this moral commitment,” he said.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.