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UJA-Fed. Braces As Proposed State Cuts Hit Three-Year High

UJA-Fed. Braces As Proposed State Cuts Hit Three-Year High

Gov. Cuomo
Gov. Cuomo

Drastic cuts to reduce the state’s $10 billion budget deficit proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo may cause agencies under the UJA-Federation umbrella to lose as much this year as they have in the past three years combined.

In what the federation calls a "gigantic challenge," agencies providing immigrant services, employment, child care programs will lose about $30 million in revenue and an additional $30 million in foregone funds, such as cost of living increases — roughly the amount of funding that has been decreased since 2008.

That would bring the total reduction in spending by the agencies to $120 million by the end of the fiscal year.

And with no area of funding safe and revenue stretched to the breaking point, there seems to be little stomach for a fight in the state legislature over the cuts.

"Cleary New York state is in a very difficult financial position and clearly the nonprofit community and the Jewish community are all going to have to do their part to get on the right financial footing," said Ron Soloway, managing director for external affairs and government relations at UJA-Federation.

Soloway said that while he understood the need to cut the budget the agency was still evaluating the potential fallout. "What we are analyzing at the moment is what the impact is going to be on the poor and vulnerable of the Jewish community as a result of these further proposals."

Cuomo’s proposals include a $2.85 billion decrease in the state share of Medicaid that will have a major impact on reimbursement of nursing home and mental health agencies, meaning an additional loss of $50 million in payments to five nursing homes run by UJA-Federation.

Fundraising to make up the shortfall has been aggressive but has been affected by the recession. The preliminary total from the annual Super Sunday telephone campaign on Jan. 30 was around $700,000, compared with close to $1 million last year and $831,997 raised in 2009.

"Our leadership takes pride in the fact that UJA-Federation of New York has been able to provide our network of beneficiary agencies with 99 percent of their pre­2008 economic crisis unrestricted funding," said John Ruskay, vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation. "We have been able to do so because our donors recognize the essential role they have in responding to job loss, economic dislocation, and the emotional and spiritual issues that result. Having said this, philanthropy cannot replace reductions in government support; hence, we are closely monitoring the impact of government cuts on the most vulnerable in our community."

Neighborhood-based organizations funded by UJA-Federation are still struggling to maintain their services or keep their doors open after Gov. David Paterson last year vetoed the member item spending allocated to state legislators for nonprofits in their districts. For example, the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, which serves some of the poorest people in New York City, lost $135,000 in grants.

The agency’s executive director, Rabbi Moshe Wiener, said that while such grants are often decried in public spending as "pork," the funds from Assembly members and senators are used to meet needs that fall between other programs.

"We know the truth," said the rabbi in an e-mail statement. "We know that, overwhelmingly, New York State legislative member-item grants address critical human and social services needs in our communities. They facilitate vital services."

The rabbi said the lost $135,000 funded homecare services crucial to 261 disabled, low-income but not Medicaid-eligible elderly and facilitated assistance with essential activities of daily living such as house cleaning, shopping and laundry.

At the Bronx Jewish Community Council, another organization that looks after the needy and elderly in struggling Jewish communities, the amount of lost funding is close to $200,000, said the council’s executive director, Brad Silver. While the agency has been able to obtain some "one-shot resources" to fill gaps, Silver said the loss is "a huge blow to our infrastructure." He has been unable to fill the vacant position of an executive who was in charge of applying for grants.

"We’re trying very hard not to let it affect our service delivery," said Silver.

The loss of member items is expected to substantially impact this year’s delivery of Passover food for the needy by local organizations.

If there is any light at the end of the tunnel, Soloway said, it is that after this year and next year there is hope the economy will improve and state revenues will stabilize.

"I am hoping the drastic budget reductions will abate after next year," he said. Still, he said, it may take as much as five years or longer to get funding levels back to pre-2008 levels.

Soloway said a representative of the governor called to discuss the budget cuts and to explain the governor’s thinking and ask for cooperation.

William Rapfogel of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty said his agency was gearing for the hit to its programs.

"We are willing to take our share but hopefully it won’t be beyond our share," he said. He noted that those who will be hardest hit are those on the threshold of poverty who may be underemployed and ineligible for public benefits but still struggling to make ends meet.

"They can’t access many things like Medicaid, Section 8 [federal housing assistance] and food stamps and rely on what we help with, food and social services."

Until the final budget is adopted, Rapfogel said it is impossible to prepare for the full impact. He said on the local level, many of his constituent agencies are dealing with a 100 percent cut in state aid, since grants from local legislators were their only public funds.

Cuomo’s budget cuts are also expected to cause the closure of as much as a third of the city’s senior centers, with a loss of $27 million to the 110 centers that serve an estimated 7,000 people per day. At a joint session of the legislature on Monday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg testified against provisions in the budget proposal that would force the city to cut 2.1 billion in spending, mostly for personnel, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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