State and city funding cutbacks, combined with soaring insurance costs, have caused agencies in the UJA-Federation system to downsize, layoff employees and look at other ways to cut their budgets.
“We all anticipate a very difficult time ahead,” said William Rapfogel, executive director of the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty.
Although officials of UJA-Federation could not say how many layoffs there would be in its network of 130 agencies, they said it would be widespread. Some have already taken place. Rapfogel said Met Council laid off 12 employees in December because member items from state lawmakers — which normally total more than $3.5 million for UJA-Federation’s agencies — are expected to be cut at least half. (Member items are pet projects of individual state legislators.)
And most upsetting of all, he said, is that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed eliminating the Extended Services Program, which since 1973 has served needy and elderly individuals of all faiths. The program, part of the city’s Department for the Aging, has provided $2.4 million to ethnic groups, including about $1.2 million to fund 25 Jewish community councils in the city.
“For the first time in a decade, we’re looking at closing down eight Jewish community councils, and 10 or 12 others will be so depleted as to barely exist,” said Rapfogel. “They are the storefronts where people with problems come for help.”
Among the people the councils work with are those in danger of being evicted, those whose children are on drugs, victims of domestic violence, and those who need help getting their Medicaid benefits.
“The councils tend to be effective because they are on the front lines of each community,” said Rapfogel, who noted that UJA-Federation and Met Council contribute nearly $1 million annually to the Jewish councils.
He said Met Council operates a crisis intervention center to which the councils refer their most difficult clients. Together with the councils, they serve an average of 100,000 Jews annually — in some years as many as 140,000.
Met Council receives government funds to also do job placement and job training, and Rapfogel said such programs are conducted at community councils most convenient to their clients. And he pointed out that Met Council acts as the councils’ back office, handling their bookkeeping and other clerical chores.
“That frees up money the councils can use to hire another social worker, thus making them a purely social service operation,” Rapfogel observed.
He said he and other community leaders hoped to meet with Bloomberg in the next few days to apprise him of the importance of the community councils and to impress upon him the need to keep them operational.
“It’s not a question of how we save the eight councils — we have to demand a full restoration of the program,” Rapfogel said. “The $2.4 million the councils receive is a tiny drop in the bucket of the city’s budget. And we use this money to leverage other money from UJA-Federation, the New York Times’ Neediest Cases, the United Way, and state and federal dollars. For every dollar the city spends on this program, we bring in about $10.”
“We’re mounting an educational effort,” Rapfogel added. “The mayor is new and there are things he does not know about. We want to explain to him how important this is to serving the population in need and how effectively we leverage other sources of funding that the city would not be able to replicate.”
Regarding state aid cuts, he noted that Met Council has in the past received $140,000 to help pay for kosher-for-Passover food packages distributed to about 80,000 needy families each year. But this year, he said he expects to receive only about $80,000. As a result, he said UJA-Federation last week contributed $50,000 and his council’s board members made up the difference. The city and federal government provide additional money.
John Ruskay, executive vice president of UJA-Federation, stressed that his organization’s grant to the council came in response to an emergency situation and that philanthropic dollars cannot make up for government reductions.
“However, we will, as we have always done, try to target our funds to specific needs that are of the highest communal import,” he said. “In the last month, UJA-Federation has provided millions of dollars of support for the Argentine Jewish community, additional funds for Israelis to respond to the trauma that faces them daily, and to provide emergency funding so that the poorest Jews in New York will have food for Passover. But these are very targeted grants responding to needs that are broadly recognized as being the collective responsibility of our people and our community.”
Ronald Soloway, UJA-Federation’s managing director of government and external relations, said many other agencies in the network have still not heard how much they will be receiving from member items but that they too expect to receive only about 40 percent of what they received last year.
”There have also been no cost-of-living adjustments, especially in the mental health and child welfare areas,” he said. “As a result, there has been downsizing in such agencies as the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services and the Jewish Child Care Association.”
More than 60 of UJA-Federation’s social service agencies purchase their insurance with the help of FOJP Service Corp., which places the insurance and helps to handle claims. In December, FOJP was informed that the company that wrote its general liability insurance, St. Paul, would no longer provide such coverage, according to Lisa Kramer, president and CEO of FOJP. She said only one other insurance firm, Philadelphia Insurance Company, offered a reasonable quote — but that the quote means an average 65 percent increase in premiums for each agency.
“Some agencies would have had to pay a 100 percent increase, but we tried to average it” among the agencies, she said, adding that the increase means “tens of thousands of dollars” in additional premium payments for some agencies.
To prevent the premium from climbing even higher, UJA-Federation’s board of directors last week authorized the organization to provide a $1.5 million guarantee to cover any increased premiums should the agencies experience extraordinary losses, according to Louise Greilsheimer, UJA-Federation’s vice president for agency and external relations.
“Only if the losses are greater than expected will they have to pay more and the guarantee assures that the additional premiums will be made,” she explained.