Budget Impasse Leaves Jewish Agencies in Limbo

Lots of things can happen in Pennsylvania over the course of six months. The Phillies can play an entire season’s worth of baseball. A new condo development can go from blueprint to realization. Cancer patients can complete a course of life-saving treatment.
Something that evidently cannot happen in that time span: the state government passing a budget.
After House Republicans put the kibosh on the latest attempt last week, Jewish social service agencies who rely on allocations from the state to supply part of their own operating budgets are feeling the strain of uncertainty more than ever.
Andre Krug, president and CEO of KleinLife, usually receives close to $100,000 a month from the state to put toward the seniors programming and meals. He said the checks stopped coming in September.
Helping about 6,500 seniors, KleinLife is doing its best not to disrupt its usual services for the largest senior center in the city. Just because the state has halted payments doesn’t mean KleinLife will stop delivering 94,000 meals a year to seniors in their homes or providing 70,000 meals on its premises — numbers that continue to rise.
For now, Krug said KleinLife is fiscally fortunate because it is still in the midst of its end-of-the-year campaign.
“We’ve been lucky in the sense that we still have internal cash flow that kind of carries us through this,” he added. “Another month or two and we’ll be in very bad shape.”
Krug said they’re managing to maintain the services at the level that existed before the budget crunch, but that it won’t last.
“When things like this happen for one reason or another … it’s not just a simple number,” he said. “It’s people’s lives, and it’s kind of shameful that the politicians are playing it like it’s just a piece of paper. It’s not. It affects real people, and unfortunately, it affects people who need this help the most.”
Paula Goldstein, president and CEO of Jewish Family and Children’s Service, said some of her organization’s programs have been affected by the state budget crisis, the biggest being prevention services in school districts and charter schools.
JFCS has also been cut off from its funding from the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. It has yet to make any severe cuts to its programming, but it is borrowing $1.4 million on margin from its foundation.
“Although we’re fortunate as an organization because we can borrow on margin, we don’t have to close the program, it’s never optimal to have to borrow $1.4 million,” she said. “We’ll have to borrow more if this continues. I truly hope we don’t get to that.
“We’re also very concerned about the most recent thing that we’ve heard, which is that if things aren’t resolved, the Philadelphia school district will have to close by the end of January, which would mean that many of our prevention specialists will not have anywhere to go — they spend all their days in the Philadelphia schools.”
According to Goldstein, the funds are drying up in some of the organization’s most at-risk populations, such as its foster care services, case management for pregnant and parenting teens and learning groups in schools about drug, alcohol, suicide and gambling prevention.
Robin Schatz, director of government affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said she has never seen a situation like this before. Programs like HIAS and the Mitzvah Food Project haven’t had to turn anyone away yet, but their funds have also been frozen, forcing them to rely on other accounts.
“Most of our agencies have reserves that are helping them get through, but it’s creating a pinch,” she said. “Services are tightening up and, in some cases, they’re not able to deliver some services.”
Not every agency is experiencing this problem, though. Organizations like JAFCO — Jewish Adoption and Family Care Options — are privately funded and not affected by the impasse.
Amy Krulik, executive director of the Jewish Relief Agency, said it is not feeling the direct effects of the impasse, but the people JRA supports are.
“We have not reached a point where we are putting people on a waiting list or closing our program to new recipients because of what’s happening in Harrisburg — or what’s not happening in Harrisburg,” she said.
JRA does not receive much funding directly from the state, so it has been able to continue to make sure that every person is helped.
“That said, what we’re hearing from people who are asking for help is that they’re feeling the pinch on the other side,” Krulik added. “They’re struggling with childcare because some places are closing or reducing their hours — they can’t take as many hours at work, which is impacting the bottom financial line for their family.”
The people who are using these services aren’t taking advantage of them but rather using childcare so they can support themselves. Otherwise, it can be a disadvantageous cycle if they can’t work and become unable to pay their bills or feed their families and have to seek support elsewhere.
Aaron Troodler, Pennsylvania regional director for the OU Advocacy Center, said these organizations have had their efforts stymied by the lack of government funding.
“In addition to the pain that the budget impasse has inflicted on Jewish day schools, it has virtually crippled the social services agencies that serve the greater Jewish community,” he said.
Unfortunately, just because a government program is currently in place today does not guarantee it will be there tomorrow, he added.
Troodler suggested that these community institutions and organizations should “reconsider how they handle government funding in the context of their budgets and make contingency plans in the event that the funding they anticipated in conjunction with government programs fails to materialize at any particular point. We need to use this budget impasse as a wakeup call and change the way that we do business as a community.”
Contact: rkurland@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0737


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