With a new presidential administration now in place, Jewish lay leaders from across the country are not wasting any time to advocate and lobby for individuals with disabilities.
The seventh annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day, hosted by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), will take place Feb. 2 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Washington, D.C.
The day is sponsored by dozens of other Jewish agencies across the country, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Aaron Kaufman, senior legislative associate for JFNA, expects around 130 people to attend, including members of Jewish Federations as well as concerned citizens, lay leaders and the disability community at large.
Per the tentative agenda, the day will include a panel of experts discussing what to expect from the new administration and Congress as it pertains to people with disabilities and their families.
They will focus on several issues, specifically block granting of Medicaid and changes to Medicaid and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Education and Reform Act that would be harmful to people with disabilities.
After the panel, members of Congress will join a congressional luncheon addressing these issues, allowing attendees to hone their advocacy skills by meeting and lobbying influential senators and representatives from both political parties who are committed to assisting people with disabilities.
Brian Gralnick, director of the Center for Social Responsibility of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said this day is also an annual kickoff event for Jewish Disability, Advocacy and Inclusion month in February.
“The day is really a great day because the morning starts off hearing from top experts and policy advocates and think tanks who are committed to protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities,” he said, citing Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.).
Later in the afternoon, Gralnick said they will break into state delegations and visit with lawmakers like Sen. Pat Toomey to talk about “the importance of programs like Medicaid to the fiscal health of agencies like JEVS Human Services or Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence (JCHAI), as well as how Medicaid is helping and being a safety net for so many elderly and disabled members of our community.”
“There’s a lot of discussion about the future of Medicaid and other crucial programs for individuals with disabilities,” he continued. “It is really critical and very timely that we talk about the impact this has on individuals and frankly on our economy, which is very much driven by health care.”
Gralnick, who has attended the event twice before, said about 10 people from Philadelphia will participate, including a handful of Jewish Federation employees, representing agencies like JEVS Human Services, Jewish Family and Children’s Service, and JCHAI.
“There’s a lot packed in one day,” he said. “It’s very gratifying to be with fellow community planners and fellow agency executives and communal professionals and lay leaders from across our Jewish community.”
Although registration is closed, there are ways to get involved locally.
Gralnick said people in Philadelphia can learn more through the Jewish Learning Venture, which runs the Jewish Special Needs/Disability Inclusion Consortium of Greater Philadelphia, a regular meeting of agencies and synagogues that are interested in making their synagogues and communities more inclusive and supportive for individuals with special needs.
“There’s always some best practices and conversations with other synagogue leaders or agency executives that can be gleaned … and it’s always a good feeling of camaraderie when Jewish professionals and advocates from across the country are in one room together. That gives a special feeling,” he said.
“It’s one of the many times that I get a lot of gratification in the work that I do with Jewish Federation.”
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