When the German government agreed earlier this year to pay $1 billion over the next four years for homecare for Jewish Holocaust survivors, it agreed to revisit that amount if the need arose. A new study suggests it may need to increase that money in another 18 months.
Published in advance of this week’s 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the study by Selfhelp Community Services, the largest provider of comprehensive services to Holocaust survivors in North America, found that although the number of survivors will decrease in coming years, the cost of homecare will actually increase as the number requiring homecare remains the same. In fact, it said the number of hours of homecare Selfhelp has provided has increased 450 percent in the last eight years alone, from 34,069 hours in 2004 to 153,478 hours in 2012.
“For many survivors, receiving such care in their own homes is especially important, as the structure and regimentation of institutional care can reawaken overpowering fears related to the trauma they experienced during the Holocaust,” it said.
Based on projections of the number of survivors above the age of 75 who will require assistance because of serious or chronic illness, along with the number who called their health “poor” or only “fair,” Selfhelp said “the need for health-related services will continue to increase for this population.”
Its projection found that the number of survivors age 75 or above in the city [excluding Staten Island] and Nassau County in 2020 would be 38,111, down from the current number of 48,436. But by 2025, there will still be 23,424 survivors living here.
“This is a critical finding,” the study said, “which is counterintuitive for those who believe that the survivor population has already significantly diminished and that the need for services has declined,” the study said. “Indeed, the need to provide services to survivors is likely to remain constant, as this last generation ages in to the need for care.”
Worldwide, there are more than 500,000 Holocaust survivors, including more than 200,000 in Israel. Their average age is 79 and nearly one-fourth are 85 or older. It is said that nearly one-third live at or near the poverty line. A UJA-Federation analysis said that “as time passes, the consequences of advanced aging are compounded by the physical and emotional horrors they endured during the war.”
In addition to Selfhelp, there are nine other agencies in New York State that provide home care to survivors and all receive funding from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The agencies provide such things as case management to assess the needs of each survivor and to access the appropriate services; socialization programs; cash assistance if needed for housing and medical care; mental health support; transportation to see doctors and friends, and support for caregivers.
But Rachel Weinstein, the daughter of a 95-year-old Brooklyn Holocaust survivor with dementia, said she found accessing those services nothing short of a “nightmare.”
An only child, Weinstein said she handled much of the paperwork herself and dealt with a myriad of different people in order to get Medicaid to provide her mother with round-the-clock care. But even then, she said, the process was lengthy and so difficult that she hired a lawyer to help her wade through the bureaucracy.
And even then, she added, finding competent aides was not easy. One aide let her mother leave her home by herself without a coat to attend Passover services.
Another took her by bus to Borough Park at 10 p.m. one night because her mother said she needed to get something. The aide’s son found out and called the Weinsteins, who said they had to “scour the streets looking for her to bring her back home.”
Elihu Kover, vice president of Nazi Victims Services at Selfhelp, said he can appreciate the difficulties survivors and their families encounter, and he said his agency’s job is to “help people figure out who can get which services and how much.”
Such care is not inexpensive and the cost is only expected to rise. The total cost of providing services to the projected 5,500 survivors who will need assistance annually — that number remains constant through 2025 — is expected to increase from $9.9 million this year to $10.3 million in 2015, $11.4 million in 2020 and $12.6 million in 2025.
In addition to home care, that figure includes the cost of case management, emergency financial assistance and assistance applying for benefits and entitlements.
“It is probable that the actual number of survivors living in poverty will actually be larger than projected over the next 12 years,” the study observed. “Many older people tend to spend down their assets as they age, so there is likely to be a gradual increase in the number who earn less than 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines.”
In 2011, the federal poverty guideline stipulated that one’s annual income could be no more than $16,355 — at a time when the median annual rent in stabilized apartments here was $13,920.
UJA-Federation of New York reported recently that of the 73,000 Holocaust survivors in New York, 51 percent live at or below the poverty level and “will continue to need compassionate care to enjoy their remaining years with independence and dignity.”
It said that makes them among the poorest low-income Jews in the city. Many “get by on fixed incomes that don’t accommodate escalating food, rent, water and utility, and healthcare costs.”
“With scant pensions, employment, social support networks, and extended family, and with limited welfare allowances, most of these Holocaust survivors live close to desperation,” the UJA-Federation report said.
Towards that end, it has created the Community Initiative for Holocaust Survivors, which recently raised $2.3 million from a sold-out Lincoln Center concert of “Defiant Requium: Verdi at Terezin.” To date, the Community Initiative has raised more than $4.3 million and seeks to raise $10 million for survivors here and another $10 million for those in Israel.
The Survivor Initiative, a Washington D.C.-based volunteer fundraising effort for needy survivors that targets young adults, began working with the Community Initiative earlier this year.
At a recent fundraiser, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told the group that there is a “moral obligation to acknowledge the plight of survivors,” according to the Times of Israel.
It said she is a co-sponsor of a bill, the Responding to the Urgent Needs of Survivors of the Holocaust Act, that would put survivors on a priority list for social services that are provided by the Older Americans Act, including nutrition services, home modifications and mental health counseling. A similar bill is slated to be introduced in the Senate; similar legislation failed in the past.