It Tuesday’s general meeting of the National Council of Jewish Women, Bergen County Section, 130 members found that something unexpected had been added to the agenda: a letter-writing campaign.
"We haven’t done one in a while," said the group’s president, Fran Eininger, explaining that the project was added at the last minute because "proposed [state] budget cuts in social services will affect those who are most vulnerable, and we felt it was necessary to speak out. Some of the [social service] agencies are barely functioning now," she said.
At the meeting, held at Temple Emeth in Teaneck, the group made three letters available for members to sign.
"Programs are being cut for agencies such as Bergen Family Center, Youth Consultation Services, and Women’s Rights Information Center," read one letter. "The result of all this belt-tightening is that New Jersey’s most vulnerable everyone from infants to seniors with developmental or physical disabilities or mental illnesses, for example stands to lose a broad range of programs and vital services."
Another letter pointed out that "private social service providers in North Jersey and elsewhere in the state are struggling to keep programs open amid what some say are the toughest financial times they have faced in years." It suggested that "an increase of 4.1 percent would take into account increases in costs and would help sustain current service levels."
The 500 letters collected at the meeting, directed to members’ individual legislators as well as to Gov. Jon Corzine and Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, will be hand-delivered, said Eininger, noting that most section members are in districts 37, 38, 39, and 40. "It’s a powerful way" to speak out, she said. "I’m sure it will be effective." Corzine is scheduled to unveil his new budget in late February.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a member of NCJW, spoke at the meeting, explaining the impact of the proposed budget cuts and telling the audience "to advocate for the voiceless."
"Social services do not have the voices," said Weinberg (D-Dist. 37). "You have to speak on behalf of the kids that need a preschool education and for people who need healthcare and for people who can’t advocate for themselves."
Leslie Schlesinger, who, with Marcia Levy, chairs the NCJW section’s community services programming, noted that while the proposed budget has not yet been presented, local agencies are reporting that they are already feeling its effects.
"The stories we’ve been hearing out of our community service agencies prompted us to act," she said.
Schlesinger pointed out that some programs have already been shut down due to reduced funding. For example, she said, the Hackensack-based Youth Consultation Service has been forced to discontinue Project ACT, a comprehensive therapeutic program aimed at ending the cycle of juvenile recidivism.
According to Eininger, NCJW, which sometimes responds to agency requests for emergency funding, has been asked to subsidize breakfasts for the Shining Lights Seniors program of the Bergen Family Center in Englewood.
"That’s 1’5 breakfasts a week for needy seniors," said Schlesinger. And, she added, the center’s president, Mitch Schonfeld, "is anticipating that the cuts will affect HIPPY as well." The Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) gives parents tools needed to help teach their pre-school children.
"We need to hear your voice during the upcoming funding sessions to help determine legislative priorities," said Weinberg. "Take ownership of your own state legislator’s offices. Tell your legislator how you feel."