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Agencies fear federal cuts to senior services funding
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Agencies fear federal cuts to senior services funding

Karen Alexander, left, director of eldercare services at United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, with Sara Levine, executive director of the Jewish Family & Vocational Service of Middlesex County, at the meeting in Whippany. Photo by Melissa Chal
Karen Alexander, left, director of eldercare services at United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, with Sara Levine, executive director of the Jewish Family & Vocational Service of Middlesex County, at the meeting in Whippany. Photo by Melissa Chal

Concerned over potential cuts to federal funding for senior citizen services, the state’s Jewish federations convened a pair of community forums on looming changes to the Older Americans Act.

The act, which comes up for reauthorization in 2011, includes funding streams for an array of services, from adult day care to home-delivered meals, provided by Jewish family services, senior residences, and other agencies.

Federation officials worry that Congress, especially if Republicans take control come November, could slash funding under the act.

“Absolutely there is a concern,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations. “No one talked [at the forums] about deficit reduction or what happens if Congress changes, but I am very much concerned about funding. I think in the coming congressional session there will be an emphasis on where can we save the dollars.”

Toporek also warned of further budget-cutting by the state, which will face an anticipated $10 billion deficit in the next fiscal year, as well as a loss of Medicaid funds.

“There will have to be a realigning of priorities,” he said.

Toporek said the two forums were designed to identify priorities for New Jersey’s network of Jewish agencies, residence homes, senior centers, and Jewish community centers.

Invitees also included seniors serving on advisory councils and directors of county offices on aging.

A total of more than 100 people attended the two forums — the first on Oct. 13 at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany, the second a day later at the Betty and Milton Katz JCC of Cherry Hill.

In Whippany, some 85 providers from northern New Jersey were on hand. They included representatives from offices on aging in Essex, Bergen, Morris, Somerset, and Middlesex counties as well as Rutgers University’s School of Social Work, the New Jersey Foundation for Aging, local senior citizens councils, Easter Seals, and Jewish vocational and family service agencies from several of the NJ federations.

Attendees voted on a series of recommendations; once tabulated, the recommendations will be presented to the U.S. Administration on Aging.

Many attendees sought to emphasize that their concerns were about serving a growing senior population and avoided partisan considerations.

“The reauthorization always occurs in the political environment of the year in which it is happening,” said Karen Alexander, director of eldercare services at United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. “We are looking at a time when the economy has not been good for several years and the government is not in a growth mode, but we have an increasing number of adults who are living longer.”

Alexander, who spoke to NJ Jewish News shortly after the Oct. 13 forum, said UJC MetroWest is particularly concerned about preserving aging-in-place services.

“We know it is more cost effective to serve seniors at home than in long-term residential care, particularly if Medicare and Medicaid dollars are helping to pay for that,” she said.

Alexander said the Jewish community has special concerns about the next version of the legislation.

“One out of every five people in the Jewish community is over 65,” she said. “We have an aging population and agencies that get money through this funding stream. New Jersey is one of nine states with more than one million people over 65. Issues about services and funding for older adults have a lot of resonance in New Jersey, whether you are Jewish or not.”

Melissa Chalker, program manager at the New Jersey Foundation for Aging, helped organize both sessions.

“It was really great to see so many people coming out and advocating for issues that involve seniors at a federal level. On both days, folks were out there having their voices heard in order to make an impact,” she told NJJN a day after the second meeting.

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