Met Council Fund Freeze Over William Rapfogel Scandal Could Hit Jewish Poor

Aid to Seniors and Domestic Violence Programs Face Chop

Work in Progress: Alex Chernis, who runs Met Council-funded programs out of a center in Midwood, Brooklyn, says Jewish poor rely on the programs.
josh nathan-kazis
Work in Progress: Alex Chernis, who runs Met Council-funded programs out of a center in Midwood, Brooklyn, says Jewish poor rely on the programs.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published August 26, 2013, issue of August 30, 2013.
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Alex Chernis, the social worker who runs the Midwood facility, declined to discuss the recent troubles at the Met Council. In describing his office’s work to help clients, however, he mentioned specific programs that would have benefited from the $1.6 million in halted payments.

Chernis and his team serve more than 1,450 clients each year from their cluttered office on Avenue M. Just a few desks and printers one story up from an AT&T store, the office offers legal assistance, benefit enrollment services and a small food pantry.

“You can get all kind of services, from A to Z,” Chernis said of the office, called the Midwood Single Stop. “You always will leave with something.”

An immigration specialist holds office hours here. So does a financial consultant. The five staffers speak English, Russian, Polish, Ukrainian and Hebrew, and spend much of their time helping elderly Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants. A shelf of emergency food packages rests on one wall; 100 families rely on food they pick up monthly.

Located in a working-class neighborhood, the Single Stop is at the epicenter of the growing poverty crisis among New York Jews. The Brooklyn neighborhoods of Midwood, Flatbush and Kensington reported some of the highest Jewish poverty rates in the New York area in a 2011 study published by UJA-Federation of New York.

More than half of Jewish households in the area told UJA-Federation researchers that they were having trouble making, or failing to make, ends meet.

Chernis helps neighborhood residents by connecting them to Met Council programs. Some of those Met Council programs were supposed to get city money this year — money that’s now in jeopardy.

Chernis refers clients to Handyman, the home repair program, on a regular basis. That program, which Chernis said once employed 20 people, has shrunk drastically in recent years, he said. It’s possible that the new city money was meant to help ramp it up again.

The funds meant for crisis intervention may also have had an impact here. Chernis’s work as a social worker is considered part of the Met Council’s crisis intervention efforts, and the Met Council’s website lists the Single Stop location as a site offering crisis intervention services.

The food pantry and emergency food aid available at the Single Stop may have benefited from the frozen funds earmarked for the Met Council’s kosher food aid program. And the hold on general operating and domestic violence funds could potentially have an indirect impact on the Single Stop’s services.

The freezing of city funds appears to have done no damage so far, not at the Met Council or at the local Jewish community organizations that the Met Council supports.

“It has not impacted anything,” said Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, executive director of the Boro Park Jewish Community Council, an independent organization that belongs to the Met Council’s network. “I’m pretty confident now, with this new director in place, that this will be resolved pretty quickly,” he said, referring to the hiring of Frankel.

Despite the optimistic view, the Met Council relies heavily on government funding, leaving it vulnerable to any cut-off. In 2010, the group reported that 47% of its revenue came from government grants. It’s still far from clear what impact the ongoing scandal will have on that revenue stream.

“The work needs to be done,” said Michael Tobman, a New York City-based political consultant, of the Met Council’s functions. “Those services need to be provided. And they will be.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis


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