It was a fruitful year in Trenton.
That’s the assessment of Ruth Cole, president of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, about the organization’s accomplishments in conveying the Jewish community’s priorities to lawmakers – and in having those priorities take effect.
One of the group’s major goals this year was state sanctions against Iran. Late last month, both the State Senate and the assembly voted unanimously for the sanctions.
The bill awaits signing by Governor Chris Christie. If he does, New Jersey will become the sixth state to impose sanctions on Iran.
The bill bars companies doing more than $20 million worth of business with Iran’s energy or financial sectors from bidding on state or local contracts.
“There are moral and reputational reasons for state and local governments to not engage in business with foreign companies that have business activities benefiting foreign states, such as Iran, that pursue illegal nuclear programs, support acts of terrorism and commit violations of human rights,” the bill reads.
Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D. – Dist. 37), one of its sponsors in the Assembly, said that with the sanctions, “New Jersey sends a clear message against Iran and its threat toward Israel and liberty. Iran’s threat to Israel and global security is something we must all stand against.”
She noted that the state sanctions follow the directions of the federal sanctions signed into law in the 2010. The federal Iran Sanctions Act made provisions for state and local government to apply their own sanctions against Iran.
In the state budget, the association – joined by affiliate advocacy groups such as the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey – had made an increase in Medicaid funding to nursing homes its top priority.
Last year’s budget cut Medicaid reimbursement to nursing homes by $75 million. That meant more than a million dollars in cuts to local Jewish nursing homes. This year, the governor’s budget had restored $5 million of those cuts. The legislature added a further $10 million in funding, which was left intact by the governor. Another $15 million will be matched by federal funds.
Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, said that he has heard that another $22 million may be available, a result of savings in another budget item. “It’s a positive thing,” he said.
Charles Berkowitz, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Home Family, the parent body of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, praised the restoration as “good news.”
He said the Jewish home was “very proactive” in trying to reverse the cuts. “All the boards sent a lot of letters to the governor and the legislators. We had families send letters, we had colleagues from other organizations send letters. And then when it was reinstalled in the budget, we sent a thank you.”
The new budget also sends money to Jewish day schools.
From 1999 through 2009, the state provided technology grants to private schools – it reached $40 per student in the 2008/2009 budget. The grants were eliminated the next year.
The new budget provides a $20 per student grant, which would bring in a total of more than $100,000 to area day schools.
“While we would have liked to have seen the grant fully restored to the $40 level it was before it was eliminated in the final budget of Governor Jon Corzine, we understand the fiscal realities and appreciate this significant first step in increased funding for non-public schools and their families,” Josh Pruzansky, the Orthodox Union’s New Jersey director of political affairs and public policy, said in a statement.
He continued, “Governor Christie is a strong supporter of the non-public school community and has expressed on many occasions his desire to help our families to better afford their children’s education. I am confident that as the economy recovers, the governor will find the funding sources that will make that goal possible.”
The measure was also supported by the state association of Jewish federations.
The association also is counting on the state assembly’s approval of a $250,000 grant to fund medical, social, and transportation services to seniors in Mercer County as a victory. The Senate has not yet voted on the measure.
The funding would establish a pilot “Naturally Occurring Retirement Community,” or NORC, in which local social service groups would provide assistance to seniors in a specific community.
The NORC concept dates to the 1980s, and the first such program was established in New York City with the support of New York’s Jewish federation. The idea has since become a priority for the Jewish Federations of North America, which notes that the Jewish community is demographically older than other American religious and ethnic groups.
“Seniors are multiplying in number, with the Baby Boomer generation moving into the senior stage of life,” Cole said. “Many healthy seniors prefer to live where they’re living. It’s more economical than housing people in a facility.”
In NORC programs, social workers and health care professionals visit the seniors where they live.
Toporek said this first program – if the Senate and the governor approve it – “is a possible precedent for future NORC funding in the state of New Jersey, which is something we’ve been trying to get for a number of years.”
Locally, both the Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson in Teaneck and the Jewish Family Service of North Jersey in Wayne have received federal grants for NORC programs, as well as support from the Jewish federation.