A pregnant Darfuri woman at a refugee camp in Chad, a Latino senior citizen living below the poverty line in the Bronx and an elderly Jewish immigrant from the former Soviet Union living in Boston.
They may not know it, but these individuals are all beneficiaries of programs run by Jewish organizations with public money.
And if Congress can’t reach a deal to avoid the so-called sequester by March 1, many of these programs could be severely scaled back – if not terminated.
“Both our international and national work can be impacted,” said Mark Hetfield, the interim president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which provides medical kits to mothers of newborn children in Chad, among other services. “It could cause some really serious cuts to the programs, but we have still no idea what they might be.”
HIAS is among the dozens of Jewish organizations grappling with the potential loss of federal funds from the so-called sequester, a measure adopted by the U.S. Congress last year to force itself to confront a hemorrhaging national debt and return the country to sound fiscal footing. Unless a budget compromise could be found, draconian across-the-board cutbacks of 8.5 percent were to have automatically taken effect on Jan. 1. The impact of those cuts was designed to be so devastatingly painful that Congress would in effect force its own hand.
Despite the self-imposed deadline, however, intense negotiations failed to produce the desired outcome. In late December, Congress agreed to raise new revenue by increasing taxes on affluent Americans but put off decisions on spending cuts. The lawmakers also pushed the sequester deadline back to March 1.
As the new deadline nears, some Jewish organizations are preparing for the worst, identifying non-essential services to be axed while lobbying federal officials to protect vital programs.
Hetfield says HIAS’s most vulnerable operations are in Ecuador, where the agency helps refugees who fled fighting between government and rebel forces in Colombia, and Chad, where it provides aid to fugitives from Sudan’s neighboring war-torn Darfur province.
“These are programs I think will be targeted more deeply because they are not emergency refugee maintenance programs,” Hetfield said. “But cutting a program might create an emergency.”