At a time when resources are shrinking and coordinated efforts can prove useful in finding a way through tough economic times, the State Association of Jewish Federations has stayed in touch with the needs of the Jewish community. What matters to the community determines the matters of concern to the governmental arm of the federations.
The State Association has responded to the urging of the state’s twelve constituent federations to take an active role in pursuing initiatives to address the effects that the downturn in the economy has had on the federations and their beneficiary agencies. Starting with the bringing together of federation executives and directors of Jewish Family Service agencies, the State Association has provided forums for discussion, exploration and information gathering and the opportunity to share approaches, best practices, ideas and concerns.
On the Federal level, the State Association, with congressional advocacy support of federation community relations committees and professionals, helped United Jewish Communities secure funding for a number of programs vital to easing the burden of the economic downturn. The Federal 2009 budget included $200 million for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program. Congress passed an extension from 7 years to 9 the period that elderly and disabled can receive supplemental Social Security Insurance benefits. The SSI extension was a joint priority of UJC and the Hebrew Immigrant Aide Society to restore benefits to 8000 refugees from the former Soviet Union.
Through Federal stimulus package, UJC and state federations secured a long sought increase of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage for Medicaid reimbursement to the various states. Medicaid reimbursement represents a significant source of funding for the critical health care services our Jewish federations provide. At the same time the State Association worked to secure funding for senior Aging in Place programs and Homeland Security grants.
The State House Annex in Trenton was the setting for an Economic Impact Workshop in February that brought together a number of representatives from various state departments and community service providers. Workshop participants were advised on what resources are available on such matters as mortgage and housing assistance, food banks and hunger issues, energy lifelines, job training and unemployment help, senior services and, among other things, the “211” informational network.
Two Training Programs were sponsored by the State Association in cooperation with the NJ Department of Banking and Insurance. The north/central New Jersey training took place in Livingston supported by the efforts of United Jewish Communities and JFS of MetroWest. The Cherry Hill Training was supported by The Jewish Federation of Southern NJ and Samost Family and Children’s Service of Southern NJ. Each session had more that 40 participants and included Jewish community, governmental, private business and interfaith community based organizations.
The State Association led a coalition of faith based, education and community advocates in securing the quick enactment of legislation authorizing the more prudent and flexible use of endowment funds previously frozen because their value had fallen below its historic starting date. Our federations and agencies expressed a great concern because they rely on income from endowments to pay for needed services and programs as their normal funding sources shrink.
The matter of an affordable Jewish education became a matter of concern for many in the community. The State Association supported efforts of New Jersey’s non-public schools to restore almost $7 million in technology funding cuts in the Department of Education proposed 2010 fiscal year allocation. Jewish day school principals and representatives participated in a State Association sponsored conversation to assess needs, share problems and discuss possible solutions regarding the affordability of Jewish education. Since many of the schools are our beneficiary agencies, it is important to find ways the federations and day schools can work together to alleviate the pressures brought about by the economic downturn. The meeting included presentations as to joint pricing and purchasing, group health insurance and self insurance.
At the request of an administrator of a JCC child care program, modified childcare and unemployment criteria was secured in a program that allows children to be cared for if both parents work. However, guidelines provided that if one, or both, of the spouses lose their job, and no position is found in one month, continued family eligibility is denied. The State Association approached Senator Barbara Buono (Middlesex) to intervene with Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez. She, in turn, accommodated our community concerns and increased the period to a more reasonable and equitable 90 days
Serving as a contributing participant and advisor, the State Association supported efforts initiated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County to reach out to community residents in an interfaith project that sought assistance in restocking food bank and pantry shelves for the Passover/Easter holiday. The Federation and the State Association partnered with the Diocese of Metuchen and its Catholic Charities agency, Jewish Family and Vocational Service of Middlesex County, local elected officials and freeholders, United Way of Central NJ, Middlesex County food programs, interfaith churches including the Muslim Society of Middlesex and the Anti-Hunger Coalition of NJ.
While making the impact of the economy the State Association priority, the can point to significant accomplishments such as forging a memorandum of understanding with Rutgers University as to it Study in Israel program, the enactment of a law authorizing the adjustment and notice of date on which certain elections can occur if the date coincides with period of religious observance and the establishment by law of the NJ-Israel Commission as a permanent state agency, rather that an agency subject to renewal with the election of a new governor.
By being prepared to intercede and foster discussion and problem solving on a statewide level, the State Association is fulfilling a goal established by the federations themselves, that is, to remain relevant to meet community needs and concerns and proceed accordingly.