After weeks of uncertainty, two state commissions of special interest to the Jewish community have been spared the budget axe by the Christie administration.
The New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education “is still there and remaining in the Department of Education,” said Michael Drewniak, press secretary to Gov. Chris Christie, in a telephone interview March 24.
The New Jersey-Israel Commission, meanwhile, will move from its current home at the Department of State to a new entity called the NJ Partnership for Action. NJIC and other commissions dealing with economic development will be placed under the jurisdiction of Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
Drewniak’s deputy, Sean Conner, explained the shift.
“Various commissions will be consolidated under a single body with a streamlined staff and what the administration hopes will be improved efficiency and effectiveness,” said Conner. “It will focus on development, partnership, technology, and that sort of thing.”
Drewniak said the future of Andrea Yonah, NJIC’s executive director, “will be announced in April.” Yonah was not available for comment.
Paul Winkler, executive director of the Commission on Holocaust Education, sounded relieved last week.
“I am very pleased that our budget line will be intact,” said Winkler. “We can continue the work of talking and helping students learn about bias and prejudice and bigotry through the study of the Holocaust and genocide.”
Preserving the two commissions has been a key concern of Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations.
“I am pleased about the Holocaust commission,” he told NJ Jewish News on March 26. “I hope the NJ-Israel Commission will continue to build economic development and the relationship that continues to exist between Israel and New Jersey.”
Drewniak said there will be no further funding of NJ After 3, an after-school program for inner-city children. The Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey operates one such program at two public schools in Linden.
Their remarks came a week after Christie urged a joint session of the NJ Legislature March 16 to pass a $28.3 billion austerity budget that would “stop our fiscal hemorrhaging.”
To close a yawning budget gap, he spelled out broad proposals for spending cuts affecting every department of state government, coupling them with increased funding to hospitals, children’s Medicare, and New Jersey Family Care programs, and prescription programs for seniors and expanding food stamp and food bank eligibility to 185 percent of the poverty level.
The two press representatives told NJJN they had no immediate information on funding levels of other programs of deep concern to Jewish community organizations, including aid to parochial schools, Medicaid, transportation for senior citizens, and programs designed to encourage seniors to age in place.
“We have champions for various programs, including NJ After 3 and the non-public schools, said Toporek. “We will continue to try to get all of our programs recognized and funded. But it is going to be a difficult year. We’ll see what happens.”