Weathering the storm

Weathering the storm

Cuts begin at home

To weather the economic crisis without compromising its mission, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey has instituted a series of internal cost-cutting measures, said Howard Charish, the group’s executive vice president.

Howard Charish

“We have to realize that this is not just about cuts,” said Charish. “We also have to look through the opportunity lens to see what needs to be strengthened.”

Said Charish, “While we’ll be doing less, we need to support our priorities: connecting the next generation to Jewish life, providing for communities at risk, both local and overseas, and [strengthening] our connection to Israel.”

The federation leader pointed out that the organization is operating on a “synchronized budget.”

“We’ve told our staff, as revenue increases, we can add services. As it decreases, we need to streamline and pare back.”

And to streamline, “everything is on the table,” he said. But while cost-cutting measures may entail consolidation or regrouping of agencies as well as “a painful necessity of choice” among existing programs, “it’s too early to come up with conclusions,” he said.

The UJA-NNJ leader said that the organization wants to “take the lead” in modeling cost-cutting measures for its constituent agencies. In effect, he said, by making the necessary cuts in its own budget, it will be better able to ask the agencies to do the same. Whether the agencies will actually need to endure further cuts in allocations – which were cut last year – “all depends on the annual campaign.”

Reeling off a list of organizational cost-cutting measures, Charish noted that for this budget year, the federation instituted a salary freeze, applying “even to those under contract.” In addition, he said, as of Feb. 1, some six or seven staff members have seen their full-time positions become “three-day work assignments” – including personnel in the finance, Jewish education, and Israel engagement areas – while several employees have been laid off.

In addition, he noted, there have been cutbacks in campaign expenses as well as other function expenses and a travel freeze has been instituted, limiting attendance at out-of-town conferences.

“Small changes have added up to a lot,” he said, crediting Robin Greenfield, the organization’s chief financial officer, with realizing savings in areas such as health care.

Charish pointed out that he meets regularly with 12 federation executives throughout the state to look for ways to reduce overhead expenses, from printing to attorneys’ fees.

“It’s not business as usual,” he said.

Lisa Fedder, executive director of Jewish Family Service of Bergen County in Teaneck, told the Standard that her staff “is stretched to the maximum.” Some of her caseworkers, she said “are losing sleep out of concern for their clients.”

Noting that the agency had been forced to make some layoffs over the summer, Fedder said the group is now down to “bare bones,” with fewer staff members assuming increased responsibilities.

With a surge in requests for help – including a 60 percent increase in requests for case management and a 10 percent increase for Kosher Meals on Wheels – “if we cut more, we’d have to stop providing some of our services,” said Fedder. “I’m not prepared to do that.”

Leah Kaufman, executive director of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey in Wayne, told a similar story. While that agency has eliminated a few positions – with remaining staff having to absorb the extra responsibilities – any more cuts would entail elimination of service.

According to Kaufman, her JFS is working closely with the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne, sharing costs on certain items and collaborating on programs.

“Foundations look more favorably on efforts that are collaborative,” she noted, explaining that the two groups are also applying for joint grants.

Like its counterpart in Bergen County, the Wayne JFS has seen requests for counseling, vocational services, and cash assistance rise dramatically, up some 30 percent in the last four months, said Kaufman, “and I anticipate that it will only get worse,” she said.

“People who are laid off are often in shock,” she said, explaining that they are more likely to request assistance after a “lag time” of several months.

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