June 6 may commemorate the day in 1944 when allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, but this year, it was also a day for representatives of Pennsylvania's Jewish community to take Harrisburg by storm.
"Advocacy Day" was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, an organization that monitors statewide legislative developments affecting the Jewish community. The organization also advocates on behalf of the nearly 360,000 Jews living in Pennsylvania along with the state's Jewish federations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
In addition to the local federation, the Philadelphia delegation included representatives from HIAS and Council Migration Service, the Jewish Community Centers, and Jewish Employment and Vocational Service. There were also representatives from the Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and York Jewish federations.
"This was a wonderful opportunity for Jews across the state to discuss issues of importance to the Jewish community with Pennsylvania's leaders," said David Rosenberg, director of Federation's Center for Social Responsibility. "The agencies we help support receive millions of dollars each year in state funds, so it's one of our priorities to focus on government affairs."
The group met with key officials from the Rendell administration and legislative leaders such as Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer (R-District 30) to talk about issues affecting seniors and low-income households, along with other issues. Advocacy Day representatives expressed strong concern about the impact of Medicaid cuts and discussed what might be done to support efforts to restore funding. They also described legislation being worked on to create a permanent funding stream for naturally occurring retirement communities, a necessity since earmarks were eliminated in the recent federal budget.
"We wanted them to understand the very negative impact that some of these proposed cuts would have on people at great risk in our community," said PJC chairman Jim Rosenstein, a member of Federation's Board of Trustees. "This was an opportunity to explain why this legislation is needed and to make sure they know we'll be talking about it with them before it's introduced in order to get real support."
The group also heard from a Pittsburgh legislator about the marriage amendment that was being debated in the House, met with a representative for the Department of Community and Economic Development, and received an extensive briefing from Donna Cooper, secretary of policy and planning for the governor's office.
"Secretary Cooper gave an excellent overview about the successes the governor has had and his ongoing priorities, such as improving education," said Robin Schatz, director of government affairs for Federation. "She did caution that the highly touted surplus was, in part, going to take the place of some lost federal funding."
After the full group sessions, representatives from the different regions of the state met with their own legislators to discuss local issues. The Philadelphia-area delegation met with State Rep. William Keller (D-District 184) and staff aides from the offices of State Sen. Vince Fumo (D-District 1) and State Sen. Michael Stack (D-District 5) to talk about ongoing programs in their districts and the need for support.
"The day was a success," said Schatz. "We educated our legislators about our concerns and programs, and put a face to the Jewish community."