As Republicans reclaim the majority in the House of Representatives, key members of New Jersey’s Jewish community are concerned that they will lose federal funding for important social programs.
Local not-for-profit agencies have been key recipients of earmark funds arranged by individual members of Congress. Earmarks have helped finance such nondenominational projects as Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, job-training programs, and senior transportation, all run by or including Jewish-affiliated agencies.
While the Senate rejected an earmarks ban during the lame-duck session of Congress, members of the incoming Republican majority in the House have pledged to an earmark moratorium since early 2010 and have promised to ban the practice next session.
“We expect a very difficult road ahead in terms of allocated spending for aging in place projects or counseling for domestic violence victims,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations. “In my discussions with Republicans, I was told they don’t know how they are going to be able to provide the funding for all these worthwhile projects they supported in the past.”
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville, also considers earmarks “a significant issue for the Jewish community.”
“The fact that earmarks are being phased out or eliminated is significant because so much of the funding for Jewish communal services comes from the earmarks put in by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress,” he said. “Losing that tactic to get money out of Congress can be a significant blow to the way Jewish communal programs are funded.”
During his two previous terms in the House, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Dist. 7) helped procure thousands of dollars for aging-in-place programs for his district, even though, he said, he opposed earmarks on principle.
In a Dec. 27 e-mail interview, he told NJJN, “Since coming to Congress, I have strongly supported Jewish social service programs that support Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities.”
But as an opponent of earmarking, he promised to “stand ready to help programs, like NORCs, by working to identify existing competitive federal grant funds” and promised to “keep in touch” with Toporek about the issue.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Dist. 11) previously obtained $478,000 for a NORC project to be administered in large part by United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Responding to an NJJN e-mail, Frelinghuysen didn’t reply directly to a question on the future of NORCs without earmark funding. “It is clear the American people want an immediate reduction in federal spending — not a freeze, but a real cut,” he wrote Dec. 27. “With respect to domestic spending, the continuing earmark moratorium presents new challenges in funding a range of New Jersey priorities.”
Toporek hasn’t given up hope for the lawmakers’ support.
“I do not feel betrayed at this juncture” by the House Republicans who once helped provide “vital support for federation-assisted social programs in New Jersey,” said Toporek. “We have approached them, and they have indicated they will try to be helpful, but I’m not sure how they can be helpful. They know our concerns and they know the problems, but perhaps a message was sent in the last election and they have to deal with it.”
House Democrats who have obtained earmarks for Jewish-run programs said they are troubled by their probable abolition.
“I am deeply disappointed that the new Republican majority plans to eliminate earmarks for critical district projects in the next year,” wrote Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Dist. 8) on Dec. 24.
“Members of Congress certainly know more about the needs of their districts than faceless bureaucrats in DC. I have been proud to win funding for a number of naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) operated in Essex and Passaic counties by Jewish social service agencies. I stand by all district projects I have designated.”
In a Dec. 27 e-mail to NJJN, Rep. Rush Holt (D-Dist. 12) pointed out he “has worked in the past to support and fund Naturally Occurring Retirement Community programs and helped increase the program funding” — not just nationally but specifically with earmarks “for local efforts like those coordinated by the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County.
“If the new majority is talking about eliminating earmarks and making an across-the-board cut (as much as 20 percent), this would have a harmful impact on NORCs and other programs that serve the community,” Holt wrote.
But Jim Horney, director of federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, believes other funding streams may keep such programs afloat.
“Without earmarks, the administration will have a lot of discretion over where to spend money, and it is entirely possible that they would spend the money in the ways it had been spent with earmarks,” he told NJJN in a Jan. 3 telephone interview. “That gives much more responsibility to the administration. It is interesting that people portray themselves as conservatives and oppose the earmarks. Conservatives traditionally oppose giving power to the executive branch, but that is exactly what getting rid of earmarks does.”