Advocates fear impact of cuts to food program
Heeding a national call, New Jersey Jewish federation leaders are campaigning to overturn cuts in federal funds for food and shelter assistance.
Their efforts are being spearheaded by the Jewish Federations of North America, which is urging restoration of $200 million in cuts to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program.
JFNA hopes to overturn a proposed 40 percent cut in funding to the program, which “regularly comes under attack” in presidential budget proposals and congressional appropriations committees, according to Robert Goldberg, JFNA’s senior director of legislative affairs.
Jewish agencies throughout the state run kosher and nonsectarian food banks and pantries.
In 2009 and 2010, the EFSP allocation grew by nearly $200 million. As the effects of the 2007 recession eased, a cost-cutting Congress reduced the EFSP allocation from $200 million to less than $120 million. “The funding level is expected to remain flat or worse in FY 2012,” Goldberg wrote in a letter to colleagues.
“Right now, Congress is in a mood to cut discretionary spending,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations. “Given this environment, it may be difficult to make the argument that this is a program that shouldn’t be cut.
“But in a recession, when people aren’t working, they certainly have to eat. It is counterproductive to cut this type of a program.”
“We don’t know exactly what the cuts will be to MetroWest,” said Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
“There is very little money — $373,000 — that will come to Newark, and it will have to be disbursed to many different organizations that are feeding the hungry and poor and providing emergency housing,” she added.
“Although the government has to make hard cuts, the cuts should not be made in FEMA grants for food and housing,” she said.
Reuben Rotman, executive director of the Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, said his agency no longer receives federal funds for its food assistance programs, but does receive some $15,000 in FEMA grants for rental, mortgage, and utility assistance.
“The safety net is getting smaller and smaller, and more and more people are needing assistance,” he said. “Our fund-raising is already centered on safety net assistance, and will become even more so if we have fewer government resources.”
Goldberg is urging local Jewish agencies to lobby elected officials heavily.
“With a continued weak economy and up against an extremely difficult federal budgetary environment, we wanted you to be sure that we are working hard on behalf of this critical program,” he wrote.