Budget victory

Budget victory

Jewish groups grateful for Trenton largesse

State aid to Holocaust survivors, included in New Jersey’s 2014-2015 budget, was one of the topics raised by members of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey at its legislative gathering last month.

When Governor Chris Christie signed New Jersey’s budget last month, approving $32.5 billion in revenue and expenses for the new fiscal year, the big news was the $1.6 billion he cut from the Democratic Assembly’s budget – he used the line item veto to slash expenditures, including pension payments, and block tax increases on million-dollar earners.

Jewish advocates were able to exhale, however. The increased funding Jewish organizations had sought for Jewish education and for Holocaust survivors were left untouched by the governor’s veto pen.

“We are delighted by the support we received this year from the governor and legislature,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations.

The new budget increases state spending for non-public schools, something both the State Association and the Orthodox Union wanted, because of its impact on Jewish day schools and yeshivot.

Private schools receive per capita payments from the state for three services: textbooks, school nurses, and technology.

Nursing and technology funds were slashed in the 2009 budget as the state struggled to cut expenditures in response to the economic crisis of 2008. This year, funds for school nurses will return to their 2008 levels; schools will receive $90 from the state for each student. Technology funding will rise to $32 per capita from the $20 in last year’s budget; the grant was $40 in 2008.

Textbook funds remain flat at $54 per student.

There are approximately 5,000 Jewish day school students in the area covered by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, so this budget will bring in about $800,000 in state aid to those local schools. Josh Pruzansky, New Jersey Regional Director, Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, estimates that there are another 30,000 students in day schools and yeshivot elsewhere in the state.

Overall state aid to nonpublic education comes to more than $80 million, out of a total state education budget of around $12 billion.

The aid for private schools was started in the 1990s. State aid for Holocaust survivors, however, began only last year.

This year’s budget doubles the grant to $400,000, which will be divided among the state’s Jewish Family Service agencies.

The grant is modeled after a grant of more than $2 million that those organizations receive from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which funds programs for survivors from the proceeds of unclaimed Jewish property in the former East Germany .

In 2011, the Claims Conference estimated the number of Holocaust survivors in New Jersey at 7,695. The number of survivors who receive services from the family service agencies is lower: 615. Of them, 134 are served by local agencies – the Jewish Family Service of North Jersey in Wayne and the Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson in Teaneck.

“We are grateful to Governor Chris Christie and the New Jersey legislature for once more recognizing, in a bipartisan way, that the concerns of Holocaust survivors are unique because of what they have been through and because their vulnerabilities at this age are increasing and are real,” Mark Levenson, president of the state federation group, said in a statement.

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