UJC Waging Limited Fight Against Cuts

By Ori Nir

Published November 04, 2005, issue of November 04, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

WASHINGTON — As Congress completes plans to cut deeply into programs that provide basic assistance to low-income families and vulnerable individuals, United Jewish Communities, the Jewish community’s main provider of social services, is focusing on a narrow lobbying agenda on Capitol Hill. The organization is not mobilizing its large network of local federations to oppose Congress’s cuts.

This week, the House of Representatives and the Senate were working out final details of a far-reaching plan to slash between $39 billion and $50 billion over the next five years from such programs as Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, student loans and heating fuel subsidies. The two chambers’ versions vary — the House plan is more ambitious, proposing significant changes in Medicaid and in other welfare program rules — but both prescribe deep cuts. Both houses would combine the spending cuts with a $70 billion tax cut.

Critics say the plans will hurt the poor while hardly making a dent in the federal deficit.

“I would hope that we would all join forces at this time to prevent these cuts, which are irreconcilable with what the Jewish community has been fighting to achieve for years and irreconcilable with our Jewish values,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. A vocal opponent of the proposed cuts, Saperstein joined other religious leaders in Washington this week to characterize the proposed budget cuts as “sinful.”

Saperstein’s center and several other Jewish groups, including the National Council of Jewish Women and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, have issued “action alerts” calling on members to contact their representatives in Congress to oppose the cuts.

But UJC, America’s largest Jewish organization and the one most intensely involved with providing services to the needy, has not done so. UJC lobbyists are focusing on attempts to change one specific provision in Congress’s proposed mini reform of Medicaid, the nation’s chief health care program for the poor.

“We are trying to be strategic,” said Stephan Kline, director of government affairs in UJC’s Washington office. The question is, he said, “given some degree of political influence, where could it be most effective? Taking it on wholesale at this point is probably not most likely to lead to a significant success.”

UJC lobbyists are focusing their efforts on reversing a House proposal that would restrict Medicaid applicants’ ability to achieve eligibility by transferring assets. The House proposal is supported by the White House and by the National Governors Association and was endorsed by a federal commission studying Medicaid reform.

Under current law, seniors who transfer assets within three years before applying for the program are barred from Medicaid coverage for a length of time that begins at the date of transfer. The length of the ban is based on the amount transferred.

Under the Republican proposal, the three-year “look-back” period would be extended to five years. The starting date for the disqualification period would be moved from the transfer date to the application date. The impact on UJC-affiliated nursing homes would be considerable, Kline said, because they would have to absorb the cost of seniors whose asset transfers bar them from Medicaid coverage.

The UJC approach has its defenders in the Jewish social-service community. UJC has been “very active on Medicaid,” but mostly behind the scenes, said William Rapfogel, executive director of New York’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. Rapfogel said he is helping UJC develop its strategy. Of all the programs being cut, he said, “Medicaid, at least as we see it, is the most significant program, and we are advocating both with the administration and with Congress” to avoid cuts that would reduce services to the poor.

Jewish activists familiar with the inner workings of UJC suggest another explanation for the organization avoiding a large-scale mobilization against congressional cuts. “There are two issues at work, which are interconnected,” said a senior official at a national Jewish agency, speaking on condition of anonymity. “One is that the [UJC’s] lay leadership, many of the large donors, wants to maintain its close relations with Republicans in government. The other is the notion that with this particular administration, you get a lot more done in working behind the scenes with honey than with vinegar.”

UJC and its affiliated federations receive more than $7 billion annually in federal funds for their social services.

Jewish groups — like others lobbying against or for the cuts — are focusing on moderate Republicans, mainly in the Senate. In Minnesota, a group of 14 Jewish community leaders and rabbis from the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative branches of Judaism signed a letter this week coordinated by the Religious Action Center, calling on Republican Senator Norm Coleman to oppose the cuts. “As representatives of the Minnesota Jewish community, we ask that you oppose both the spending proposals and tax-cut proposal in the budget reconciliation package,” the letter said.

Find us on Facebook!
  • 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?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • 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.