Local Jewish agencies brace for impact of sequesterby dan pine, j. staff
|Follow j. on||and|
Anita Friedman is bracing for what she calls a tsunami. Not a wall of water, but a torrent of frail elderly and poor people who will be hit hard by the looming federal budget sequester and will turn to social service agencies for help.
The executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services condemned the sequester, passed by Congress in 2011. Set to go into effect March 1, it mandates across-the-board cuts in defense and domestic spending, including funding of social services. Approximately $1.2 trillion will be trimmed from the federal budget over the next decade, impacting everything from air traffic control to food safety.
The cuts were designed to be so devastatingly painful that Congress would in effect force its own hand. Lawmakers were right about the pain, but apparently wrong about finding a timely resolution.
Now Jewish organizations are preparing for the worst, identifying non-essential services to be axed while lobbying federal officials to protect vital programs. The first cuts, some $85 billion, will be phased in from March through September.
“We know it will increase the number of people who need help,” Friedman said. “There are two ways a decrease in government services to the poor impacts the Jewish community. One is bread and butter, meaning we get less money, but the bigger impact is we get more clients.”
State budget cuts over the past three years have resulted in an increased caseload of 5,000 clients for JFCS, Friedman noted. How many more sequestration may engender is anyone’s guess.
Leaders from other local Jewish social service agencies also are worried about the sequester’s impact.
Avi Rose serves as executive director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay. He admits neither he nor anyone knows precisely how sequestration will impact his agency, but he predicts it will hit the most vulnerable the hardest.
“With that kind of federal cut, you don’t know how it’s going to rebound, knocking out whole categories of programs,” Rose said. “The safety net has already been battered. In the sequester, Medicare and Social Security are exempted, but other federal programs are not. It’s like hitting people when they’re down.”
Rose cited as an example JFCS’ participation in a county program under the auspices of the federally funded Area Agency on Aging. The program, which provides support for caregivers of vulnerable seniors, could be slashed.
Abby Snay, the executive director of S.F.-based Jewish Vocational Service, has no doubt the sequester will impact employment. Not only will cuts result in layoffs of federal workers, they will also slash funding to programs of the Workplace Investment Act, the largest source of federal funding in support of employment programs.
Snay estimates a $150,000 loss in federal dollars for her agency. That, she said, would affect JVS’ ability to help hundreds of unemployed people. It would mean bigger caseloads for JVS counselors and longer wait times for clients.
Rose called the current fiscal climate for agencies like his “a depressing new normal” and said he might have to turn to the Jewish community for additional financial support.
Friedman noted that since 2008 more than $200 billion in state funding for social services has been cut. The sequester comes on top of that.
“We will feel it immediately,” she said. “We’re struggling to check priorities for services we provide, be as efficient as we can, focus on people and raise more money. We’re trying hard to not allow this country to turn into Bangladesh.”
JTA contributed to this report.
Be the first to comment!