What will be the impact on the Jewish community of the proposed 2018 federal budget, officially known as the “America First: A Budget Blueprint To Make America Great Again”?
William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s senior vice president for public policy, estimates that federation-affiliated agencies in this country receive more than $10 billion per year. The funds are mainly Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements to Jewish hospitals, nursing homes and family service agencies. Daroff cautioned that this figure is “a guesstimate of sorts,” based on a survey conducted about a decade ago.
Jewish social service agencies, in fact, receive federal funds for an array of activities, including counseling services, job training, senior adult housing and programming, food assistance and childcare. A 2002 JTA story on the fiscal impact of proposed budget cuts during the Bush administration noted that San Francisco’s Jewish Vocational Service received $2.3 million of its $5.5 million operating budget from federal, state and local governments.
More recently, a statement by B’nai B’rith International noted that a proposed 13.2 percent cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development envisioned by the 2018 budget “would adversely affect the 38 buildings with 8,000 residents in the B’nai B’rith network.”
Federal budget cuts also target various cultural and educational programs. Jewish agencies that receive federal monies in these areas — including after-school enrichment programs, film festivals or arts education — may find their grants reduced or eliminated.
Jewish cultural organizations throughout the country would be severely and negatively affected by the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment for the Arts. These agencies fund programs in every pocket of America: San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival in Georgia, the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre in New York, Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly in Massachusetts, the Jewish Arts Foundation of Palm Beach in Florida, the Maine Jewish Film Festival, the Oklahoma Israel Exchange, RUACH in Wisconsin, Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Illinois, the Jewish Community Center of Washington, DC., the Irene Kaufmann Center/JCC in Pittsburgh. The list is endless.
Jews are major supporters of local theater companies, art museums, symphony orchestras and public broadcasting stations, many of which are likely to be affected by budgetary cuts. So, we will see Jews “stepping up” to increase their support of these cultural and educational institutions?
The reductions will also affect United States foreign policy interests, as the State Department’s financial capacity to provide foreign aid and underwrite other grant programs is likely to be reduced or eliminated. These resources have been central to strengthening U.S. influence in many regions. Israel policy-makers and Jewish leaders have described these proposed cuts as detrimental to long-term American and Israeli interests in the Middle East and Africa.
“The proposed draconian cuts in areas vital to executing U.S. foreign policy could adversely affect our national security interests by potentially creating more pressure on the American military while essential diplomacy is being undermined,” said David Harris, the American Jewish Committee’s CEO. “Deep cuts to the State Department, including in key educational and cultural exchange programs, will severely harm America’s ability to assert our interests and values abroad.”
Summarizing the overall impact of such proposed cuts, the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center offered the following assessment: The budget’s “drastic reduction in funding for critical human needs, environmental protection and international aid programs abdicate the federal government’s responsibility to the American people it serves and others worldwide who depend on U.S. leadership.”
No doubt, the interplay between the Jewish community and the federal government has expanded over time, making agencies and programs of our communal institutions increasingly dependent on federal and state resources to support these key safety net activities. Similarly, the connections between public arts funding and the institutions of the Jewish community have likewise expanded over time. In the wake of these proposals, some of these key resources and partnerships will no longer be available.
Confronting similar budget cuts, some institutions in the past have opted to close their doors. While this option is seen as the “last stance,” in some settings it may represent the only viable pathway.