Tonight marks the beginning of Passover and the first seder. I hope that you and your family (and friends) enjoy the special evening.
I fondly recall attending a seder where everyone was asked to bring a current events article – on any topic. During the seder, the leader would randomly stop and ask people to talk about their article. It sparked some wonderful conversations at the table and made the seder even more enjoyable. It is a tradition we have continued in my own family.
I was not planning to write a column this week, but wanted to share some important news. Last week, the Omnibus Spending Bill was signed into law, which includes support for a number of programs critical to Jewish Federation (and its partner agencies) and will fund the federal government through the next fiscal year.
The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Washington office was instrumental in advocating on many issues of mutual concern for Jewish communities. Two key areas I want to focus on:
• Increasing the funds appropriated for the Non-Profit Security Grant Program from $25 million to $60 million (which includes $10 million for smaller communities). At a time when anti-Semitism is at an alarming high, this $60 million in new funding will provide critical resources to enhance the physical security of the nonprofit sector that helps to supplement the work of local and federal law enforcement to keep our communities safe. We are grateful to the leaders of the key Homeland Security and Appropriations Committees for recognizing the merits of the program and increasing the program’s funding level this year, and for continually championing these all-important security grants. This would not have been possible without the advocacy support from the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel, Jewish Community Relations Councils, and Jewish Federations from across the nation.
• We are delighted that federal funding for the Holocaust Survivor Assistance grant program will double from $2.5 million to $5 million. This increase in funding will provide essential funds to allow our community to better care for survivors, twenty-five percent of whom live at or beneath the poverty level. The Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program is a public-private partnership between the DHHS Administration for Community Living, JFNA’s Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care, and community-based health and supportive services providers to better address the unique needs of the country’s aging Holocaust survivor population.
• There are approximately 100,000 Holocaust survivors living in the United States today, with an estimated 30,000 living in poverty. By doubling funding levels to $5 million, the program now will be able to provide immediate support to ensure that Holocaust survivors are able to live in dignity and comfort for the remainder of their lives.
The new funds will allow providers, including our own Jewish Family and Child Service, to serve twice as many survivors and family caregivers as well as train twice as many staff. It will also enable communities to conduct greater research in and develop person-centered, trauma-informed (PCTI) care materials, tools, and resources. We can provide more robust technical assistance, curriculum, and opportunities to train the Aging Services Network in PCTI care. We can establish private sector partnerships to help address food insecurity and the emergency financial assistance needs of low-income Holocaust survivors. You can learn more by clicking here.
Other key programs advocated for by the Jewish Federation system included:
• $120 million for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program;
• Preserving the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits charities from participating in political campaigns for public office;
• Funding for the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, in addition to funding for at least $1 million for programs to combat anti-Semitism abroad;
• Funding for the U.S. State Department’s Speical Envoy for Holocaust Issues;
• $2.171 billion for the Administration for Community Living for important programs for older adults and people with disabilities, granting Older Americans Act (OAA) programs a substantial increase. Priority programs include: $385 million (10% increase) for home- and community-based supportive services; nutrition services received a total $59 million (7%) increase ($490 million for Congregate and $246 million for Home-Delivered Nutrition Services); and $180 million (20% increase) for family caregiving;
• $678 million (35% increase) for Section 202 Housing for the elderly, which reflects $105 million for new Section 202 construction and project-based rental assistance and $90 million for service coordination;
• Section 811 Housing for persons with disabilities was increased from $146.2 million to $229.6 million, a 57% increase;
• The omnibus bill, as signed, rejects the President’s requests to eliminate the Social Service Block Grant ($1.7 billion) and Community Services Block Grant ($715 million) and preserves flat funding;
• $300 million (10 percent) boost to $3.3 billion for the Community Development Block Grant; and
• $250 million increase for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), for a total of $3.6 billion.
Given the current fiscal environment and the challenges in Washington, this success is unprecedented and frankly a testament to the hard work of our Washington team – as well as that of our network of Federation leaders, agencies, and professionals across the nation. Together as a Federation system, meetings were held, calls made, letters written, emails sent, town halls attended, and it was made clear that – together – our values of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and tzedakah (charity and social justice) can lead the way.
Shabbat shalom and have a wonderful Passover holiday. Chag sameach!