With the sequestration deadline looming last week, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh held a forum to discuss what across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending could ultimately mean to local Jewish communities.
Keynote speaker David Brown, chairman of the Human Services & Public Policy Committee for the Jewish Federations of North America, said that sequestration, which went into effect on Friday, ultimately hurts the most vulnerable members of the Jewish community.
“It’s going to have significant impact on the people we care most about,” Brown said, referring to those living in poverty, the elderly, and people suffering from disabilities. “What Congress should be talking about is them and their stories. We deserve better and they deserve better.”
During the panel discussion that followed Brown’s remarks, Deborah Winn-Horvitz, president and CEO of the Jewish Association on Aging, Aryeh Sherman, president and CEO of Jewish Family & Children’s Service and Karen Wolk Feinstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, talked about the importance of federal dollars to their respective organizations’ budgets, but offered few specifics on how sequestration cuts would affect their services.
Winn-Horvitz was the only one to offer numbers.
“For Mollie’s Meals, the only kosher Meals on Wheels program in the greater Pittsburgh area, a 5 percent reduction means roughly 1,000 meals,” she said, adding that the program not only provides nourishment to area seniors, but is an important outlet for social interaction. Similarly, she noted that a 5 percent reduction in JAA’s adult day care program would mean 145 fewer days of care per year.
If, that is, Jewish organizations offering social services don’t find a way to adapt to having less money.
“Foundation money will never make up for the public shortfalls,“ Feinstein said, emphasizing that these organizations need to be more creative in making do with less. “All of the most generous gifts from the most generous Jews to the most generous foundations will not make up for what the government is taking away.”
None of the panelists said they could foresee a situation in which the federal funding is totally restored, but speaking to the Chronicle after the event, Feinstein said sequestration isn’t the apocalyptic event it’s been framed as.
“We have a lot at stake, but I also think that for any us that are conspicuous leaders in the Jewish community, this is not a time to join in the wailing because a lot of people are looking to us,” she said. “How are we going to deal with this? We’re hopefully going to be spunky and resilient. We’re going to find a way.”
(Matthew Wein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)