Activists To Focus on Medicaid Cutbacks

Published February 11, 2005, issue of February 11, 2005.
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WASHINGTON — President Bush’s proposed cuts in funding for dozens of programs that benefit poor and elderly Jews — as well as other disadvantaged Americans — is alarming Jewish communal leaders. Particularly worrisome to Jewish activists is the deep cut proposed for Medicaid, a program that benefits tens of thousands of low-income Jewish seniors in nursing homes. The $2.57 trillion federal budget, which landed on Capitol Hill this week, calls for a $60 billion cut in funding for Medicaid over a 10-year period.

The president’s budget for the 2006 financial year calls for $345.2 billion for spending on Medicaid.

Communal leaders have not yet assessed the potential impact of the proposed cuts to Medicaid on Jewish seniors, or the full impact of the president’s proposed 1% across-the-board cut in domestic spending, which includes a severe reduction or elimination of 150 programs.

“A 1% cut doesn’t matter if a program has been flush for a number of years,” said Stephan Klein, director of governmental affairs at the United Jewish Communities. “But it is a problem if programs are already bare bones.”

Jewish groups will be focusing on the proposed cuts to Medicaid, the single-largest source of funding for nursing home care in America.

Jewish communal leaders have for years considered the program a high-priority budget item, because of the high proportion of seniors in the Jewish community compared with the overall American public. Of the tens of thousands of residents in 396 Jewish federation-affiliated senior housing, assisted-living or skilled-nursing apartments in North America (including Canada), more than 60% are on Medicaid.

Recent increases in the cost of prescription drugs and long-term care have made Medicaid even more crucial for Jewish agencies, which last year launched a concerted effort to fight intended cuts to the program.

Under Bush’s proposal for fiscal year 2006, which begins October 1, the total amount of nondefense, non-homeland security discretionary funds would remain frozen for the next five years. Given the rate of inflation and the population increase, this would amount to a 16% cut, Klein said. “If it were to be implemented, it would be devastating,” he said of the freeze in discretionary funding. “Many of our programs are dependent on these discretionary funds.”

In addition to Medicaid, of particular concern to the Jewish community in the president’s budget request is a $6 million cut in funds for independent living in retirement communities. The program, which was cut by $31 million last year, is used by more than 100 Jewish federation facilities to provide assisted living services, communal meals and other programs for the elderly.

The potential negative impact of other proposed cuts to social service programs, education, health care and job training programs was to be assessed by Jewish federation and community relation council leaders in a conference call Thursday.

On the positive side, Jewish communal leaders were satisfied with a significant 1% increase in funds for homeland security, which could include additional funds above the $25 million already earmarked for high-risk nonprofit sites, including Jewish institutions. They also noted with satisfaction that aid to Israel — $2.52 billion in economic and military assistance — has not been cut beyond the restructuring plan agreed to by Israel and the United States, which gradually phases out Israel’s economic aid by $120 million a year, while raising its military aid by $60 million annually.

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