The Unkindest Cuts?


The debt-ceiling deal signed this week may have averted a catastrophic default on U.S. loans and a downgraded credit rating, but we're not out of the woods yet. Given the dysfunction and brinksmanship that prevailed until the 11th hour, the looming battles over the next round of spending cuts should make us all nervous.

Almost everything, it appears, will be on the table when a joint congressional committee is created to slash $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion by the end of the year, as required by the law passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama.

With funding down in all quarters — from philanthropic dollars to public monies — the safety net that protects the most vulnerable populations is getting less safe these days. Fearful of what comes next, the organized Jewish community — locally and nationally — is raising its voice to these concerns before it is too late.

Referring to the grants approved by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia last week, Federation CEO Ira M. Schwartz said of the funds given for seniors and others in need:

"The safety net is even more critical with what's going on on the federal and state level. It's not clear what impact there will be, but there's no question there will be an impact."

The state budget cuts are already having an effect, particularly in the area of subsidies to food-relief agencies, but there is general agreement that the federal cuts will be even more drastic.

The concern over domestic spending cuts comes as the organized Jewish community has already made clear its worries about potential cuts in Medicaid, the joint federal/state program that pays for medical assistance and long-term care for low-income and elderly Americans.

At a meeting of the Federation's board of trustees last week, outgoing president Leonard Barrack made the case for lobbying against these cuts, noting that they provide critical funding for many institutions, including the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, JEVS, Jewish Family and Children's Service and the Albert Einstein Health Network.

He noted that in response to proposed cuts, the Philadelphia Federation led a multifaith mission to lobby members of Congress to vote against them.

William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella for federations, is also gearing up for active lobbying efforts.

"No decisions have been made yet on the Hill as to where those cuts will come from," he told JTA.

As the safety net begins to sag, we must remain vigilant lest the seniors and the most vulnerable among us — indeed the ones with the least power — end up the most adversely affected by Congress' next act.


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