State budget cuts take a bite out of local Jewish agencies

When lawmakers in Sacramento finally agreed on a state budget in February after months of stalemate, many Californians cheered.

Daniel Ruth was not among them.

As CEO of the Jewish Home in San Francisco, Ruth is looking at millions of dollars in funding cuts –– largely from Medi-Cal reimbursements –– that he says will adversely impact the senior residence.

As Ruth explains it, the Jewish Home gets “hit twice.” Not only will the facility suffer a 5 percent cut in future funding, the new budget also cuts 5 percent from recoupable expenses laid out as many as two years ago

Jewish Home resident Lillian Klein takes a walk with certified rehabilitation assistant Edwin Lagapa. photo/alain mclaughlin

“What we pay our staff today, the level of expense we incur –– allowable costs, operating costs that directly relate to care in a skilled nursing facility –– we don’t get reimbursed for two years,” Ruth said.

Because the Jewish Home is the state’s third-largest nursing home, that adds up to a multimillion-dollar shortfall. “Last year our deficit was in excess of $12 million,” Ruth said. “We cannot continue to sustain those kinds of losses. If we continue to sustain the kinds of losses we had last year, the Jewish Home would be out of business in five to seven years.”

To prevent that, Ruth has appealed to the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation for additional support, as well as to other community resources.

“At the end of the day, the Jewish Home is an extension of the community,” he said, “and our ability to be charitable will have a direct correlation to the degree that the community wants us to be charitable. I’m hopeful the community will step up with us.”

Other local Jewish social service agencies also expect state budget cuts to hit hard.

Avi Rose, executive director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay, worries less about the budget passed in Sacramento last month, and more about the upcoming special election in May, which would ratify certain budget provisions.

If passed, that slate of ballot measures would divert monies previously mandated to fund programs benefiting children and the mentally ill.

Some of that is money Rose had counted on. For example, his agency relied on those funds to build the early childhood mental health program JFCS is known for.

“We are very concerned about the cuts that are coming,” Rose said. “It’s a serious blow to the [early childhood] infrastructure in this state. It diverts $608 million the first year. There’s such a chronic tendency for kids to pay the price.”

Anita Friedman, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services, had to eliminate her entire legal aid department, which helped legal immigrants become U.S. citizens. She also trimmed the agency’s medical assistance to elderly Jews, counseling for at-risk teens and food programs, such as hot kosher lunches for seniors.

Like Friedman, Rose reports demand for JFCS services in the East Bay has jumped 50 percent over the last six months, thanks in part to rising unemployment. In response, JFCS has partnered with Jewish Vocational Service to host employment workshops and a job-search support group. The latter filled quickly, and now has a waiting list.

“Our situation is what people call ‘perfect storm’ conditions,” Friedman said. “A 50 percent increase in caseload and decreases in funding from the state and the ability of people to pay fees because they’re in trouble financially.”

Some silver linings may emerge from behind the economic gloom. JVS Executive Director Abby Snay noted that the recently passed federal stimulus package may “hold great promise for us. There’s such a focus on jobs and training. We’re hoping to participate in that.”

According to Ruth, that stimulus could bring up to $10 billion to state medical programs, which could spell financial relief for the Jewish Home.

And both Friedman and Rose say donors are still supporting the respective agencies. Moreover, added Friedman, “We’ve been planning for this for decades. We have a very broad base of devoted donors, strong connections in the community, a strong s taff and a growing cadre of volunteers. So we’re ready.”

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Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.