Still smarting from a scheme that defrauded it of more than $42 million, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) has announced a historic agreement with the German government that will significantly enhance home care for indigent Holocaust survivors.
Under the new agreement, Germany will provide 110 million euros (approximately $145 million) in 2011 for vital homecare services for Jewish Holocaust victims living around the world.
“This is double the amount that the Claims Conference received for 2010 following negotiations earlier this year and is the largest single amount ever negotiated for homecare for Holocaust victims,” Claims Conference Chairman Julius Berman said in a prepared statement. “With restitution-related sources of funding on the decline, this agreement obtained by the Claims Conference is vital to addressing the growing social welfare needs of aging Holocaust survivors.”
In an interview with the Chronicle, Claims Conference Executive Vice President Greg Schneider said the infusion of funds would enable providers of home care to extend their hours of service while adding as many as 12,000 survivors to their rolls.
Currently, 58,000 survivors around the world who make less than $16,000 a year are receiving assistance through this source of funding.
He didn’t yet know how much of the money will be dispersed in the United States, but judging from previous years, he said it will be significant.
“In 2009, in total, we allocated $170 million for welfare worldwide,” Schneider said. “Of that amount, $25 million was allocated in the United States.”
The local impact of the funding hike remains to be seen.
“We are very hopeful [of receiving more funding] but we have not heard yet,” said Sandy Budd, geriatric care coordinator and psychotherapist for Jewish Family & Children’s Service, who works with Holocaust survivors in the Pittsburgh area. “We feel we have a good relationship with the Claims Conference, but we don’t know yet.”
She said as many as 30 survivors here have recently received assistance from the Claims Conference.
JF&CS, which applies to the Claims Conference behalf of the survivors for assistance, can expect a more stringent review process this time, as a result of the fraud investigation, according to Budd.
Monday’s announcement came weeks after Schneider, together with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan announced the discovery of a $42.5 million fraud scheme on Nov. 9.
The FBI arrested 17 individuals in New York, including former and current employees of the Claims Conference, for their involvement in creating and submitting fraudulent documents attesting to eligibility for Holocaust-related compensation payments, according to Claims Conference.
In all, 4,957 one-time payments totaling $18 million were obtained from the Hardship Fund through the alleged fraud. Another $24.5 million went to 658 fraudulent pension claims drawing from the Article 2 Fund, through which the German government gives pension payments.
Schneider reiterated that no Holocaust victims were deprived of any funds because of the crime. He also said the German government was kept apprised of the investigation while it negotiated its 2011 allocation.
“I’ve been in frequent communication with the government, telling them what was happening,” Schneider said. “It wasn’t like they discovered it last week.”
He also said that the Claims Conference is taking steps to thwart future attempts at fraud, such as randomly selecting certain supervisors to review the claims documents. It has also hired an outside firm to review changes to the process that are already in place and make further recommendations.
But he admitted that uncovering forged documents is difficult to do.
“Imagine you have 100 [claims] files sitting on your desk and one of them has faked documents,” he said. “Now the faked documents look exactly like the originals; these are sophisticated forgeries.”
Established in 1995, the Claims Conference identifies and addresses social welfare and health needs of Jewish victims of Nazism.
In addition to the funds obtained from the German government, the Claims Conference allocates funds from various restitution-related sources, including the recovery of unclaimed Jewish property in the former East Germany; agreements with the governments of Austria and Hungary; the Swiss Banks Settlement; and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.
For 2011, the Claims Conference will allocate approximately $270 million for services to Nazi victims in 46 countries, including hunger relief, medical aid, winter assistance, transportation, help in applying for government benefits, and socialization opportunities to relieve loneliness.
Schneider praised the German government for “facing its history” and continuing to financial support for survivors.
But he criticized eastern European nations — Poland Lithuania and Ukraine specifically — for failing to release property that belonged to the survivors. If they did that, he said, there would be “a huge impact on our ability to take care of survivors in their finals years.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)