Jewish Groups Brace for Debt Ceiling Cuts

Anti-Poverty, Refugee Aid and Hunger Programs Face Chop

Facing the Chop: Jewish run programs from around the block to across the globe could be slashed if Congress doesn’t act to head off automatic so-called ‘sequester’ spending cuts.
courtesy of hias
Facing the Chop: Jewish run programs from around the block to across the globe could be slashed if Congress doesn’t act to head off automatic so-called ‘sequester’ spending cuts.

By JTA

Published January 14, 2013.
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Other HIAS operations, such as the agency’s refugee resettlement program, also are in limbo.

Robert Marmor, executive director of HIAS’s Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts, says his staff recently helped an Iraqi mother and her three daughters file a request for reunification with the family’s father. The successful completion of that process would depend on continued funding from the federal government.

“The worst-case scenario would mean no new refugees,” Marmor said, “and that would be the worst, especially for families that are waiting for relatives.”

Budget cuts have forced Valeriya Beloshkurenko, the director of the Met Council’s Home Services department in New York, to let more than half her staff go in the past two years. Approximately 50 percent of her remaining budget comes directly from the federal government, and the other 50 percent that comes from city and state sources is at risk, too.

Beloshkurenko manages a team of three handymen who help low-income seniors with everyday home maintenance tasks throughout New York City – things such as installing door knobs and locks, changing light bulbs, putting grab bars in bathrooms and opening clogged drains.

“When our team shows up the people we help, whether they are Latinos in the South Bronx or Russian Jews in Brighton Beach, are so grateful,” Beloshkurenko said. “I cannot tell you how many thank you letters we receive.”

Susan Rack, the director of Covenant House, a B’nai B’rith-run home in Boston for the elderly, has a staff of 10 nurses and maintenance workers caring for more than 300 tenants, mostly Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Although the home is in relatively good financial standing thanks to a recently awarded $3 million grant, the current cutbacks might force Rack to reduce salary costs.

“Do we do it by cutting everybody’s hours or by cutting one person?” she said. “I’m not sure.”

B’nai B’rith runs 38 such homes across the United States, and their directors are likely to face similar dilemmas if federal spending on the elderly is cut.

“If the sequester were to go into effect in two months from now, that could affect our ability to serve residents we already have as well as bring new residents,” said Rachel Goldberg, B’nai B’rith’s director of aging policy.

In the buildup to the March 1 deadline, B’nai B’rith, the Jewish Federations of North America and many other Jewish groups are lobbying lawmakers in a bid to blunt reductions. In those efforts, Goldberg said, they have found friends and foes on both sides of the aisle.

“At this point, parties themselves have pretty interesting patterns within their caucuses,” she said. “We’ve seen within the Republican Party there were disagreements. We’ve walked into Democratic offices and found less friendliness than expected and the other way around.”

When approaching politicians, Goldberg says, the most important thing to stress is that “spending cuts do not fall disproportionately on low-income citizens and elderly-spending programs.”


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